Sunday, December 2, 2007

Rally & Press Conference - November 30, 2007

November 29, 2007
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly presented the councilman with a plastic pigeon and a tongue-in cheek certificate of appreciation applauding his fight against the birds. ( see right)

November 30, 2007, 2:55 pm
Rally Protests Proposed Ban on Feeding Pigeons

By Jennifer 8. Lee
Pigeon supporters at City Hall today.
(Photo: Jennifer 8. Lee/The New York Times - see left

First they came for the pigeons. Then what next? Sparrows? Squirrels?

That was the rallying cry of the about two dozen pigeon proponents who staged a noontime protest in front of City Hall today criticizing Councilman Simcha Felder’s proposed legislation to ban pigeon feeding.

They carried signs with slogans like “Give pigeons their peace and “Have you known anybody killed by a pigeon?”

The pigeon proponents passionately defended the feral bird’s right to co-exist with humans in the city, holding it up as a symbol of nature in the urban wilderness.“We are voices for the wildlife in New York City that we would like to preserve,” said Naomi Semeiak, a demonstrator also works on banning horse carriages because it is an “evil industry.”

The demonstration was organized by People for Pigeons — a grass-roots coalition of the New York City Wildlife Alliance, the Urban Wildlife Coalition, the New York Bird Club, the Greenwich Village Pigeon Club and others — which has taken an ardent stand on protecting pigeons. The group has written a rebuttal [pdf] of Councilman Felder’s report [pdf], assembled talking points and compiled a list of names of animal welfare and government officials to lobby.

Pigeon paraphernalia was available in abundance.

Jackie Mock, 21, founder of the Greenwich Village Pigeon Club, had silk-screened a number of shirts playing off the famed Milton Glaser logo: I (HEART) NY (PIGEON).

“We love underappreciated things,” said Anna Millholland, 20, another Greenwich Village Pigeon Club member who was carrying a sign with a picture of Charles Darwin with a pigeon superimposed standing on his head.

“The pigeon for us is the symbol of the underappreciated,” Ms. Millholland said.
Among their littany of pro-pigeon arguments: pigeons are not a health threat, they played an important role during World War II (”They have sacrificed their lives for humans,” one demonstrator said), that pigeons counterbalance the city’s rat population, and they teach the city’s children an appreciation for living creatures.

While demonstrators had hoped to feed some pigeons during the protest as a mark of solidarity, City Hall was determinedly a pigeon-free zone on Friday afternoon.

(Perhaps the pigeons were wary of Councilman Felder and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn’s feelings toward them? But a police officer in the security booth observed, “We see more squirrels.”)

Councilman Felder is not anti-pigeon, said Eric Kuo, his spokesman, who was at the rally.
“We like pigeons,” Mr. Kuo said.

The report detailed many proposals in dealing with the burgeoning population, but only made one proposal, banning the feeding. Feeding the pigeons is actually bad for them, Mr. Kuo said, citing the support from PETA and the ASPCA for the proposed ban.

Mr. Kuo eyed the I (HEART) NY (PIGEON) shirts that were being sold for $5 apiece, but he was leery of the demonstrators at first. He believed they might harbor antipathy toward members of Councilman Felder’s office.

In the end, he bought the shirt, later writing by instant message: “I think it’s going to be my new favorite shirt.”

December 1, 2007
Some People Love Pigeons, Others Just Don't

After City Council member Simcha Felder announced he would propose legislation to ban feeding pigeons, bird lovers joined forces and, yesterday, held a rally at City Hall. Armed with posters like "Save Our Right to Feed Wildlife," "Have U Known Anybody Killed by a Pigeon?", "Pigeons are Beautiful Birds," and "Felder's Pigeon Bill is Poop!", the pro-pigeon protesters spoke out for their feathered friends. One demonstrator told City Room, "We are voices for the wildlife in New York City that we would like to preserve."

Felder's reasoning for a stop on pigeon feeding is that pigeon poop - an estimated 25 pounds over a year - damages city infrastructure and suggested the city needs a pigeon czar to deal with the issue. And he's not the only one with the bird on the brain: City Council member James Oddo had suggested pigeon birth control (approved by PETA and the Humane Society), after pigeon poop created gross conditions at the St. George ferry terminal. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg also seem to support a ban on pigeon feeding. This week, Felder was the subject of a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece, where he told Ben McGrath:
"Yesterday, I was having lunch in City Hall Park with a colleague, and this squirrel comes over, literally up to my feet, and he stands up,” Felder said. “I’m eating a bar of chocolate. I said, ‘What, are you kidding? You’re with them?’ It ran away, but five minutes later dozens of pigeons, like something out of some spook movie, show up, and they’re all over the place. I said, ‘Get a camera!’"

Of course, Felder isn't immune to teasing. The other day, during a community breakfast in Borough Park, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly gave him a plastic bird and a certificate which was, Kelly read, "in recognition of your dedicated work to protect the city from an imminent quality of life danger...Overfed pigeons pose a threat to the safety and well-being of every New Yorker. We are grateful for your leadership and courage in raising awareness of this issue." Kelly was joking. We think.

People for Pigeons is the umbrella group organizing smaller bird clubs; here's their website.

Bird lovers protest proposed bill to ban the feeding of pigeons
Saturday, December 1st 2007, 4:00 AM

Protests are common on the steps of City Hall, but the one held Friday was strictly for the birds.
Several dozen bird lovers and animal-rights advocates rallied to protest a proposed City Council bill to ban the feeding of pigeons, with offenses punishable by $1,000 fines.

Several participants carried signs denouncing Councilman Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) for proposing the bill. One stated: "Felder's Pigeon Bill is Poop!"

"We're not just a bunch of crazy pigeon people," said Johanna Clearfield of the Urban Wildlife Coalition.

What's next after you get rid of the pigeons, she posed.

Carol Moon of the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y., said feeding pigeons is a way "to teach children that having compassion for animals is just one part of having compassion for everyone."
Eric Kuo, a spokesman for Felder, commented, "Do they love pigeons, or do they just love feeding pigeons? We are looking for a humane way to address the overpopulation of pigeons."

Felder ruffles feathers with ban - Animal advocates peck at councilman
Park Slope Courier
By Gary Buiso

A local pol is using the beleaguered wings of pigeons to give flight to his political career, urban wildlife advocates chirped at a rally last week. On the steps of City Hall, activists wielding pro-pigeon placards decried the controversial series of proposals by City Councilmember Simcha Felder to curb the city’s pigeon population. Felder’s legislation, which has not yet been drafted, includes a ban on feeding pigeons—a galling measure that hit bird-lovers right in the gizzard.

“He is able to use this to bolster his very tenuous political career,” said Johanna Clearfield of the Urban Wildlife Coalition, an event co-sponsor. “He sees this issue as a way to get mass attention and to garner what is already the existing hostility [against pigeons].”

“The city is not an indoor lobby. We need to ask ourselves how we can relate to our urban environment,” she said. Felder spokesperson Eric Kuo insisted his boss is has no beef with squab. “He doesn’t hate pigeons or want to harm pigeons,” Kuo said. “He just thinks there are too many pigeons, and I think a lot of New Yorkers [agree].”

Felder, who plans to introduce the legislation in the next few weeks, has suggested a $1,000 fine on those who feed pigeons. At press time, he was not made available for comment. In his report, “Curbing the Pigeon Conundrum,” Felder details the hazards created by pigeon droppings, including the degradation of steel structures.

His report concedes that health threats posed by the birds are often “exaggerated.” Possible pigeon control tactics could be the trial use of avian birth control; fostering hawk and falcon populations (they eat pigeons); and the creation of a Pigeon Czar, to “categorically address the pigeon population issue as a whole.”

Kuo said animal experts agree that there is an unhealthy overpopulation of pigeons. He pointed to groups like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA), as key backers of parts of the legislation. “Providing food for pigeons not only causes an influx of birds to the area, but can also attract unwanted rodents and insects as well, thereby contaminating an area in a very short amount of time,” the ASPCA said in a statement. “Councilman Felder’s proposal is one that will ensure the pigeons will not be encouraged to reproduce by otherwise well-meaning citizens.”

“While we appreciate these creatures as part of our regional landscape, we also acknowledge that it is important to maintain their population so that they do not impede the health and sanctity of our city,” according to the ASPCA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has reportedly said it supports the feeding ban if it were to included a controlled-feeding program that would administer a population-curbing contraceptive. While not prohibited by regulation, the city’s Department of Health discourages pigeon feeding, as uneaten food can attract vermin. According to the agency, pigeons do not pose a health risk to the general public. Kuo said Felder did not propose the ban to attract a spotlight on himself.

“If getting publicity will be able to address a problem that affects New Yorkers, than that is something we are happy to do,” Kuo said. “He has always done what he thinks is best for new Yorkers,” he continued. “By doing that, if New Yorkers support him in his career—that’s great.” The Borough Park lawmaker is term-limited out of office in 2009.

The organizer of the Nov. 30 rally was Anna Dove of the New York Bird Club, and at least a dozen other local advocacy groups, now represented by an umbrella organization, the newly formed City Wildlife Alliance.

Pigeon advocates said the birds add to the richness of the urban environment, and should not be legislated to starvation. Moreover, if the city’s infrastructure is rotting, money should be spent to rebuild it, rather than blame the birds, according to Clearfield. The rally, she said, transcended the pigeon. “Pigeons do not exist in a vacuum. What’s next? Are we going to start targeting crows? Or sea gulls?

Where does it end?” Still, Clearfield said, pigeons, which were first brought to North America by European settlers, deserve more consideration. “It is human tampering and manipulation that brought them here. We, as a race are more responsible to pigeons than almost any animal,” she stated. “The have co-existed with New Yorkers for hundreds of years and now suddenly, they are public enemy number one?” Clearfield wondered.

“There is no credible threat.”

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