Want to get rid of pi­geon poop? Mass. has a tax so­lu­tion: Fal­cons

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Bob Sals­berg

BOS­TON — Along with all the usual dec­la­ra­tions and de­duc­tions, Mas­sachusetts res­i­dents have been asked to keep some­thing else in mind this tax sea­son: pi­geon drop­pings.

In an un­usual and at times stom­ach-turn­ing ap­peal, the state agency MassWildli­fe pro­posed that one way to fight back against the sticky messes be­foul­ing cars and dam­ag­ing bridges is for tax­pay­ers to check a box on their tax forms to sup­port the state’s en­dan­gered species pro­gram.

How so? Pere­grine fal­cons are among the pro­gram’s ben­e­fi­cia­ries, and they prey on pi­geons.

“Hate pi­geon poop? Save pere­grine fal­cons,” be­gins the mes­sage on the agency’s web­site and in a re­cent news­let­ter. It goes on to pic­ture a typ­i­cal mo­torist driv­ing home from work over one of the state’s ma­jor bridges.

“You’re think­ing about din­ner as you wait in traf­fic when — PLOP! — some­thing white and black falls onto your wind­shield,” the post con­tin­ues.

And then, lest the reader be­lieve it’s all no more than a yucky nui­sance, this warn­ing: “This paste-like sub­stance is so acidic and cor­ro­sive, that it can dam­age your car’s paint job. And you guessed it, groups of birds all go­ing to the bath­room in the same place can make man-made struc­tures like bridges de­te­ri­o­rate faster.”

En­ter the pere­grine fal­con, a preda­tor that can at­tain speeds of 240 mph in high-el­e­va­tion dives, no match for the slower and less ag­ile pi­geon, which just so hap­pens to be one of the pere­grine’s fa­vorite feasts.

Pere­grine fal­cons dis­ap­peared from Mas­sachusetts in the mid-1950s and soon af­ter the en­tire east­ern U.S., their demise largely blamed on the pes­ti­cide DDT, ac­cord­ing to the state’s Nat­u­ral Her­itage and En­dan­gered Species Pro­gram.

Af­ter the chem­i­cal was banned, ef­forts picked up to rein­tro­duce the rap­tor, some­times con­fused with more com­mon va­ri­eties of hawk.

To the sur­prise of some or­nithol­o­gists, many of the newcomers es­chewed their for­mer ru­ral habi­tats and be­came city dwellers. In­stead of on cliffs, they be­gan nest­ing on tall build­ing ledges and bridges in ur­ban ar­eas where food sources — pi­geons, es­pe­cially — were more plen­ti­ful.

To help the fal­cons along, state of­fi­cials and vol­un­teers placed nest­ing boxes in strate­gic lo­ca­tions such as the Cus­tom House Tower in Bos­ton, the 28story W.E.B. Du Bois Li­brary at the Uni­ver­sity of Mas­sachusetts-Amherst and the heav­ily trav­eled Tobin Bridge span­ning the Mys­tic River.

“Fal­con cams” were even in­stalled to of­fer a con­tin­u­ous livestream of pere­grine com­ings and go­ings.

The restora­tion ef­fort is par­tially funded by vol­un­tar­ily do­na­tions from tax­pay­ers, who can choose to con­trib­ute to “en­dan­gered wildlife con­ser­va­tion” on their state re­turns. The money sup­ports more than 400 threat­ened or en­dan­gered plants and an­i­mals, from bog tur­tles to tim­ber rat­tlesnakes, but the pere­grine fal­con is eas­ily among the most “charis­matic,” said David Paulson, se­nior en­dan­gered species bi­ol­o­gist for MassWildli­fe.

Con­tri­bu­tions to the fund have been in­creas­ing but re­main well be­low lev­els needed, ac­cord­ing to state of­fi­cials and wildlife ex­perts. About 23,000 tax­pay­ers gave $312,000 through the tax check-off in 2017, the last full year for which fig­ures were avail­able, com­pared with the $178,000 pro­vided by ap­prox­i­mately 18,000 tax­pay­ers in 2013.

It’s not just bird lovers and con­ser­va­tion­ists em­brac­ing the re­vival of the pere­grine fal­cons.

State trans­porta­tion en­gi­neers have no­ticed a re­duc­tion in the pi­geon pop­u­la­tion on bridges with nest­ing fal­cons, of­fi­cials said. Fewer pi­geons means less waste build­ing up on bridge sur­faces, rust­ing the steel and in­creas­ing the costs for main­te­nance and bridge re­place­ment.

“It’s al­most like a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship,” Paulson said. “The struc­ture pro­vides the habi­tat, and the fal­cons kind of pro­vide the pest man­age­ment, for lack of a bet­ter term.”

RYAN HUT­TON/THE EA­GLE-TRI­BUNE 2015

MassWildli­fe is ask­ing state tax­pay­ers to help save pere­grine fal­cons, a species that preys on pi­geons.

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