If someone asked you to name three things that set life in a big city like New York or Chicago apart from other urban environments, what would you say?
Most lists would probably resemble mine:
Semi-domesticated animals (think: grey squirrels, starlings, and ducks) are attracted to big cities for obvious reasons (think: food, food, and food), but because they carry disease and have a tendency to congregate and deficate in public places, it’s important to keep their populations under control.
A large part of the Humane Society’s work as a national organization is to resolve conflicts between humans and wildlife in non-lethal ways, which is one reason they support the use of birth control technologies, as a means of humanely controlling animal populations.
Successful chemical contraceptives (products that prevent fertilization) and contragestives (products that prevent gestation) have already been developed for a variety of species, including elephants, brown bears, kangaroos, and even koalas.
Most recently, the concept has been applied to the control of bird populations, including geese, ducks, and pigeons, with the development of OvoControl-a kibble bait that uses the compound nicarbazin to effectively reduce egg hatching rates.
Although it might appear that OvoControl would have only positive effects for urban environments, it’s important to remember that just like human oral contraceptives, there is an issue with what happens to them after passing through the bird’s body.
Human birth control hormones like estrogen are turning up in our drinking water supply, and researchers have found evidence that “even extremely diluted concentrations of drug residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species, and have been shown in labs to impair human cell function.”
With their free-wheeling ideas about when and where they can relieve themselves (think: everywhere), it’s important to question whether feeding large amounts of chemical contraceptives to wild birds could exacerbate this issue.
Until quite recently, OvoControl was only available for use by licensed pesticide applicators, and though the Environmental Protection Agency did issue an approval for OvoControl for pigeons, they’ve been known to let some toxic pesticides slip through the cracks in the past.
For now, Nicarbazin (the active ingredient in OvoControl) does not appear to bio-accumulate in the animals or the environment. Once in the environment, the compound binds to soil particles and breaks down over time.
It is reassuring to know that OvoControl has no effect on mammals, reptiles, insects or anything else that might accidentally consume it, and because its rooftop feeding system is designed to only attract flock-feeding birds like the pigeon, it is highly unlikely that it will have unintended effects on songbirds or other likeable flying species.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons - jaykayess