Haliburton’s Laurie Johnson has had a fowl experience with a flock of pigeons she says are running roughshod over the affordable housing complex she manages on Victoria Street.

Johnson estimated that as many as 100 pigeons congregate around the Parklane Apartments building daily, causing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage and deterring many of her senior residents from going outside.

The birds have been a “major problem” since Johnson assumed her role in 2020. She believes they were attracted to the area by people feeding ducks and deer in nearby Head Lake Park and have now identified the site as a reliable source of food. While Johnson implemented a no wildlife feeding policy at the building in 2021, she says she can do nothing to prevent area residents from feeding animals on municipal property.

“They are a major pest… their excrement is damaging the shingles on our roof and canopies. It’s messing up the solar panels we have on site. Their effectiveness is down 60 per cent from three years ago,” Johnson said, noting she relies on the income they generate – usually around $5,000 a year – to fund special projects for residents.

“It’s a health risk too – pigeons are known carriers of several diseases, which are spread through their droppings,” she added.

She estimates she’s spent around $7,000 trying to combat the issue over the past two years. That includes bringing in a pest control company to conduct on-site hawking, which she says serves as more of a temporary deterrent than any type of fix, hiring someone to power wash the solar panels, and the extra hours maintenance staff are putting in to scrape waste off shingles and clean the sides of the building.

The problem is getting so big that Johnson feels she needs a concrete, long-term solution to remove the pigeons from the area. While there’s around 100 birds to deal with now, each female lays between 10 and 12 eggs a year, and since they imprint on their young, it’s likely any hatchlings will join the flock.

She said she’s identified three potential options – purchasing and installing a net on the south side of the building to protect the solar panels; bringing a company in to trap and remove the pigeons; or setting up OvoControl feeding stations around the building, which will sterilize the birds.

“We couldn’t find any trappers that would release the pigeons elsewhere. They would be euthanized, so we want to avoid that. The sterilization program takes two to three years to have an impact and is quite expensive at $10,000… so the netting would be our preferred route,” Johnson said, noting she has a quote of $20,000 to complete the work.

“This would take a huge chunk out of our budget. For $20,000 we could do a renovation inside the building or fund some special events or outings for our seniors. There’s a lot of good we could do with that money,” she said. “It’s such a high cost to deal with this issue. We’re a non-profit… it would be nice if we had a bit of help.”

Issue spreading to downtown

Johnson has also reached out to the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Haliburton Village BIA, believing the pigeons to be a problem for downtown businesses.

Laurie Bonfield, owner of Country Pickin’s, said she’d like to see something done to divert the birds from the area.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what they’re doing to our downtown appearance,” she said.

She agreed with Johnson, noting the birds pose a risk to public health and called on the township to take action. There is precedent in the County – Minden Hills council contracted pest controllers in 2020 to address the pigeon population in its downtown, to some degree of success.

After just recently replacing the roof of her downtown location, Bonfield is worried about the potential impacts the growing pigeon population will have on its lifespan.

“They’re destructive – some other businesses in the downtown are having major issues dealing with this issue too,” she said.

“I don’t know what the solution is… but the situation is only going to get worse if it’s not dealt with.”