From: Associated Press
Published February 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Road Salt May Be Sickening Alaska Pigeons

JUNEAU, Alaska — Something is sickening pigeons in Juneau, making the birds lethargic and susceptible to attacks by ravens. A biologist and some birders suspect salt on Juneau's roads and sidewalks may be affecting pigeons.


A little more than a week ago, longtime resident Sharon Kelly saw about a half dozen crows or ravens gang up on a passive pigeon that did not try to defend itself.


"They killed one (pigeon) and started into another one," she said. "It was like a little massacre."


A local bird-watchers Internet chat site, "Eaglechat," has been filled with postings about pigeon behavior.


Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Ryan Scott spent part of Friday and Sunday downtown looking for samples of dead pigeons. He found two and sent them to the department's wildlife veterinarian in Fairbanks.


"It's something that has generated quite a bit of interest around town," Scott said. "But the bottom line is we don't know a lot of what's going on at this point."


Pigeons are not native to Southeast Alaska.


It's not uncommon for ravens to scavenge on a dead bird. For them to be so vicious just might be, Scott said.


"It is kind of interesting that they are preying on live pigeons," he said.


Susan Sharbaugh, senior biologist at the Alaska Bird Observatory in Fairbanks, said ravens are opportunistic hunters.


"If something is slow, they'll go after it," she said. "They'll eat just about anything."


On the North Slope, they hunt lemmings in the spring. Of course, they've also been known to eat glass and cigarette butts, Sharbaugh said.


Necropsy results from the pigeons are due back in several weeks. If pigeons are digesting salt used to melt snow, Scott said, dehydration might make them more susceptible to predators.


He also said it is plausible that the pigeons are lethargic because of the cold weather, disease or bacteria in bird food left out by humans.


Silverbow Inn & Bakery employee Dani Byers spotted dead pigeons and wondered what killed them.


"I wasn't sure if it was other animals doing it or people mutilating them," she said. "It was really strange. Walking home from work I kept seeing wings with nobody or anything attached. It was like the wings just fell off."


Photographer Art Sutch witnessed attacking ravens from his downtown shop.


"I saw one eating and it looked like the lower end of a pigeon," he said. "It had a pigeon leg sticking out of its mouth."


Ryan said people should wait until the necropsy results before making conclusions about the increase in pigeon deaths.


"While we don't have a lot of information at this time, we don't want people to become too concerned about it until we have more information," he said.


Source: Associated Press


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