More complaints of pigeon problems in recent years

AVA gets more complaints, mostly about hygiene, diseases and feeding

Pigeons have been ruffling the feathers of more and more people in recent years.

Last year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) received 2,490 complaints about them - mostly about hygiene, environmental issues resulting from their droppings, and concerns over diseases and people feeding them.

There were 2,080 complaints in 2013 and 1,420 in 2012.

The increase has largely been attributed to AVA's First Responder Protocol implemented in 2012, which includes a 24-hour hotline for reports of animal-related issues.

The Straits Times Forum has also received letters about pigeons pecking on food scraps at coffee shops and hawker centres.

Junior college student Ng J-Cyn said Ghim Moh market is a particular hot spot. Pigeons fly within "inches of diners to peck at crumbs or food waste on the floor", said the 16-year-old, who is concerned about them spreading diseases. She added: "They also contribute to a very negative dining experience."

Fellow Forum contributor, Ms Lee Kay Yan, 41, believes the pigeon population will explode unless people stop feeding them.

She said: "Three to five pigeons don't cause a nuisance but a flock of them do."

The feeding of pigeons has been banned since 1973 and those caught flouting the rules are fined up to $500. Last year, 60 people were caught doing it, up from just 10 in 2011.

One of the diseases pigeons can spread is psittacosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs with pneumonia-like symptoms.

The bacteria become airborne when the bird droppings dry up and can be inhaled by humans.

Dr Christina Low, medical director of SMG Medical, said thehealth risk to most people is low, although infants, the elderly and individuals who have low immunity "are more vulnerable".

She advised people to wash their hands thoroughly before meals and reduce pigeon attacks by clearing unfinished food and dirty crockery.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) requires all food shop operators to clean tables promptly and cover rubbish bins. Those who fail to clean tables, for example, can be fined $300 and given four demerit points.

As for Ghim Moh market, the NEA said it has asked the table- cleaning contractor to step up the clearing of tables and crockery.

The agency added that it has so far received only one complaint about pigeons at the market.

Nationwide, it received 35 pigeon-related complaints last year and 36 the year before.

The AVA said it responds to pigeon-related feedback by working with the relevant parties, such as town councils and the NEA.

While poison bait is traditionally used for heavily infested areas that need fast elimination of the birds, a spokesman for pest firm Pest Solute said the use of netting at roof gaps, spikes or a type of sticky gel on window ledges to prevent the birds from nesting is more commonly used.

Food areas are a little trickier and need a combination of these measures, according to Ms Gloria Ngoi, business development manager at bird control firm Mastermark.

These methods, however, are not sustainable if people continue to feed the birds, said Forum writer Ms Lee.

"Preventive measures are better, through good design of buildings to prevent roosting and entry by birds."

samboh@sph.com.sg