14 Sep 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen

Can Metro-North Outsmart the Pesky Pigeons at the White Plains Train Station?

The railroad is trying. But the pigeons have no interest in departing and are no pushover.

Metro-North is on the offensive but the pesky pigeons at the White Plains train station, it turns out, are not easily intimidated.

Understandably, the commuters who use the Metro-North White Plains station would rather not share the station house and platforms with the resourceful pigeons. In April, 2012, the railroad escalated its efforts to persuade the pigeons to go away but the birds aren't interested in cooperating.

Pigeon poop is an eyesore and a very expensive maintenance problem. It presents a serious health problem if touched or in a dry state, if it becomes airborne or is inhaled. Stations are regularly cleaned with high-pressure hot water and bleach to combate it.

Pigeons aren't stupid no matter what you may have heard. Research conducted last year proved conclusively that the comprehension of abstract numerical rules by pigeons is equal to that of monkeys. Except for humans and primates, the researchers concluded that few or no living creatures have the pigeon's ability to grasp rules about numbers.

Damian Scarf, a participant in the research program, told Patch, "Over the past several years, it has become clear that pigeons can do many things people once thought were beyond them." The study was conducted at the 142-year-old University of Otago in New Zealand.

Pigeons are an annoyance because of their proficiency for producing poop but they are also good at breeding. They are respected at the Piazza San Marco in Venice but not in metropolitan New York where more than one million of them live in New York City.

Just how elusive and cunning can hungry pigeons be? Ask Metro-North.

"We have spent more than 15 years trying various methods to get rid of the pigeons," said Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders. Success thus far however has been limited.

"In the beginning, we tried grease as a deterrent, then we tried plastic owls," she said." We progressed to moving owls with heads that turned and then to electricity-charged wires. This helped some but was limited in effectiveness and only worked for a straight run." 

At one point loudspeakers were tried that emitted loud screeching hawk cries. "But the birds realized the calls weren't authentic and the noise bothered the people more than the pigeons," said Anders.

Nest removal was tried; it didn't phase the birds. "The pigeons found different areas to nest in the same station," Anders commented. "They won't leave a location if it is a good source for food."

Poison has never been tried and is not a consideration, she added.

The situation at the White Plains station

Currently at the White Plains station, Metro-North is applying metal needle strips at roosting locations to discourage pigeons from perching on ledges; cage traps are also being set.

"Skewers/spikes have probably been the most effective of the things we have tried," Anders said. "But the pigeons are resourceful and learn to build on top of the skewers or they move to another area of the station." Spikes as deterrents have been installed throughout the railroad system not just in White Plains.

"White Plains has been a special problem for us, so we decided to tackle it full force this April," Anders said. "The pigeons were feeding inside the station; doors were left open by commuters allowing them entry. We removed the door stops so the doors couldn't be propped open."

"We hung 'Do Not Feed the Pigeons' signs in the station and hired an exterminator to come in and place a trap," she said.  "About a dozen pigeons were caught, brought to another location and released."

Cabbies and bus drivers contribute to the problem because they habitually feed the pigeons. "We try to stop them," said Anders. "We take photographs of the offenders and sent the pictures to municipality authorities for enforcement."

The White Plains station managers scold passengers whenever they see them throw bread crumbs on the floor inside the station.

The Hudson Line has the worst pigeon infestation, followed by the New Haven Line and then Harlem Line. "Don’t know why that is," said Anders. "Proximity to water perhaps?"

"The most effective deterrent we’ve found is the placing of netting under the canopy from one end to the other as we are doing at Tarrytown," Anders remarked. "The overpass staircases there will soon be netted as part of a capital station improvement project."

The typical cost for netting a station is estimated by Metro-North at $75,000. All stations on the Hudson Line have been netted thus far except for Garrison, Cold Spring, Beacon and New Hamburg.

"I think it is safe to say that the Metro-North employees responsible for keeping our stations clean hate pigeons," Anders remarked.

Pigeon intelligence has been misjudged

"Pigeon intelligence has interested me for a long time, in part due to the fact that even in comparison to other birds, many people do not consider pigeons intelligent," Scarf said. "I have to admit that at the start of my studies, I generally agreed with this view."

Scarf, a Research Fellow at the University of Otago, will widen the scope of his research of bird species to include birds such as Keas and African Grey parrots when he joins the school's Department of Psychology in February, 2013.

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