Tuesday, July 31, 2007
We Didn't Mean for You to Find Out We Kill Birds
After word got around Sunday night that several Metro stations had been temporarily closed due to dozens of dead birds appearing around them, Metro officials spent the day yesterday trying to figure out how to explain away the fact that the mistake their contractor had made was not that they had poisoned the birds -- merely that they had poisoned the birds at the wrong time of day, and didn't have a chance to clean up the carcasses before commuters showed up.
In today's Post we see that news traveled quickly to the Humane Society of the United States, who quickly contacted Metro officials and said they'd like to help them find humane ways to keep birds out of stations.
Now Metro says they will consider changing their bird-killing policies. A Metro spokesperson explained that they contract with a local company, Dixon's Pest Control, on an as-needed basis and only as "a last resort" to get rid of birds after customers and employees complain about droppings. The agency says it also uses netting and spikes to control the bird population. Of three other major transit systems polled by the Post, none of them said they use poison to get rid of birds.
It's interesting to note the different standards we apply to different kinds of pests. No doubt far fewer people would object to poisoning rats, which are also a big problem for the city, but pigeons, which carry just as many diseases and leave behind even bigger messes -- well we can't just go killing them, now can we?
Consider Other Ways to Get Rid of Birds
Metro officials said yesterday they might reconsider their longtime policy of poisoning pigeons and starlings after a contractor failed to clean up dead birds at several Metro stations Sunday, closing three stations and stalling trains for hours. After hearing news reports about the poisoned birds, executives of the Humane Society of the United States contacted Metro officials yesterday and offered to discuss more humane ways to keep birds out of stations, according to Maggie Brasted, director of the society's urban wildlife conflict resolution program. "We want to bring them good practical solutions," she said.
On Sunday, the contractor told Metro officials that it put out poison at one bus garage and seven Metrorail stations: Silver Spring and Takoma on the Red Line, and Prince George's Plaza, Fort Totten, Greenbelt, Naylor Road and Anacostia on the Green Line. The contractor, which was supposed to be finished before 7 a.m., told Metro officials it did not begin until 7:30 a.m., Gillum said. Dead birds were reported at four of those stations: Takoma, Greenbelt, Naylor Road and Anacostia. Gillum said the contractor was able to pick up dead birds at some of the stations immediately but did not have time to go back to the other stations before authorities closed them because of the dead birds.
Metro officials said they could not explain why dead birds were found at two stations -- Branch Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood -- where the contractor had not put out poison.
In 2006, Metro hired Dixon nine times, paying between $213 and $4,000 each time, based on the amount of work. The company's owner, Robert Dixon, did not return a telephone call to his office yesterday. The reports of at least 60 dead birds triggered an immediate response from federal and local officials Sunday, and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force also interviewed Dixon, according to Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office.
Gillum noted that Metro had worked successfully with the Humane Society several years ago to find an alternative to trapping and killing troublesome beavers at the Greenbelt Metro station. Metro ended up using a device known as the beaver deceiver, which tricks beavers into thinking their dams are not working and prompts them to leave, he said.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.