'Birth control' way to reduce nuisance caused by pigeons under trial by AVA

SINGAPORE - Every day for at least a year, pigeons that congregate outside Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh mosque will get an extra ingredient in their breakfast.

They will be fed a corn-based feed containing a drug called nicarbazin, which will either prevent the female birds from developing eggs or cause them to lay eggs that do not hatch.

This is a new method being tested by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) at a field outside the mosque along Palmer Road near Shenton Way. The trial was started on Oct 13 this year.

This new trial coincides with increasing number of pigeon-related feedback received by the AVA. About 3,400 were received from January to October this year, more than some 2,500 they received in the whole of 2014 and some 2,100 in 2013.

Feedback on all birds have also grown from around 4,400 in 2013 to around 6,100 in the first 10 months of 2015 alone.

The field outside the mosque has an estimated pigeon population of around 400, a number which has doubled since three years ago. So far the AVA has caught 13 feeders.

Mr Mohamed Idris, secretary of the mosque's management board, said the pigeon problem has always been around but worsened over the last 10 years.

The pigeons fly into the mosque compounds, making them a nuisance to staff and people who go to the mosque to pray.

"They leave their droppings on the floor and you walk on it... they congregate at the food preparation area as well," said Mr Mohamed.

The persistent and growing problem has led the AVA to choose the mosque as the first area to trial the method.

During a demonstration of the method on Thursday (Nov 5), Ms Janet Chia, executive manager of the Operations (Wild Animals) section at AVA, said that it will take about a year to see a drop in the pigeon population there.

Around five mosque volunteers will be in charge of feeding the laced feed to the pigeons. The method could be rolled out to other areas in Singapore if the trial proves successful.

When tested in Italy, the method was found to reduce the pigeon population there by 30 to 40 per cent over four years.

The drug does not harm the birds and is only toxic to cats or dogs if 40kg of the feed is consumed. For it to be toxic to a child, 60kg of the feed will have to be consumed.

The AVA urged the public not to feed birds as this causes them to congregate and increases their population.

Feeding pigeon is illegal and those found to flout the rules face a fine of up to $500.