“Don’t you dare harm my baby!”

Yesterday, I encountered a gull and realized “Oh! You’re a baby!”

I think this was the second time in the past five years or so that I’d seen a young from close enough that I was able to detect the messiness of its feathers. The first time, I mistook it for a gull that had had an encounter with hot exhaust gases. *blush*

I looked up. Would there be a parent around? Sure enough, an adult was sitting on the roof above the youngster and sure enough, it swooped down and signalled “Don’t you dare harm my baby!” by reaching a point no more than about a meter over my head – I instinctively ducked – before it swooped upward again.

Message understood. Roger, willco, over and out.

So I walked on. The parent returned to its high perch, literally watching over its young.
Then I took this photo, with my old mobile.

The pigeons of Waterlooville, Havant

In Waterlooville, quite close to where I am based, they are having a situation that is far from rare (and one that is so wonderful to work with). See the following three pages:

https://www.havant.gov.uk/news/crackdown-feeding-time

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/our-region/havant/don-t-feed-the-pigeons-in-havant-or-you-could-be-fined-80-1-8042053

http://www.aboutmyarea.co.uk/Hampshire/Portsmouth/PO6/News/Local-News/309312-Crackdown-on-Feeding-Pigeons-in-Havant

Apparently, some residents and shopkeepers are experiencing problems with pigeons while other residents are feeding the same pigeons, eh, up to 8 kilograms bird food per day? (I am sure I have misunderstood that, because that is a heck of a lot of bird food.)

Both sides are right, of course. While pigeons rarely spread disease – a common myth – their droppings can be unsightly and, well, a pain in the butt. Pigeons are also very smart creatures for which we are actually responsible, however, as it was us who took these birds from the sea cliffs in the countries where we found them in the past. We took them with us, and spread them all over the world because we liked them. Yep. We also used them as messengers, of course.

So what’s a pigeon gonna do? It has no choice but to use our buildings and bridges to roost and nest, as those are the only things that come close to the sea cliffs they once had in warmer countries.

And apparently, even if they are told that the birds will be killed unless they stop feeding them, many people who feed pigeons will continue to feed the birds. It is understandable. If you’ve only once seen a pigeon trying to eat some utterly disgusting piece of greasy fast food that made us gag and throw it away and that gets grease all over the bird and barely any nutrition into it, then you start feeling an obligation toward these gentle rock doves. Again, after all, we’re the ones that brought them here.

(In fact, when you look at the pigeons around you, you can also often see that the local pigeons breed with the white pigeons released on various festive and memorial occasions!)

While many city councils may feel powerless when dealing with a pigeon problem, there is actually a solution. After Nottingham City Hospital tried it in 1999, they were astonished. The pigeon population was reduced from 1200 pigeons in 1999 to 63 pigeons in 2005, only 5 years later. That is a 95% reduction in flock size without killing a single bird! Nottingham City Hospital also won the prestigious RSPCA Best Practices Award for its work with a pigeon organisation that sadly no longer seems to exist. (But this one does: http://www.pigeoncontrolresourcecentre.org/html/reviews/artificial-breeding-facilities.html. And that page has more examples and cost estimates, too.)

Think like a pigeon! What does a pigeon want? A good place to sleep, sheltered from the elements. A good place to nest too.

(And the best food you can get, because good food helps you stay healthy.)

Our buildings often don’t actually offer pigeons a lot of good shelter, so you can entice pigeons to move out by offering them a better alternative. You can place artificial roosting and nesting structures – modern dovecotes and pigeon lofts – in parks or on flat roof tops. They’re also called artificial breeding facilities or ABFs.

They enable you to decrease pigeon pressure elsewhere by attracting the pigeons to them. They can also allow you to control and maintain a healthy pigeon population (which requires a DEFRA licence just as it is also against the law to kill any kind of wild bird without a licence).

When I read that in Waterlooville, pigeons apparently are roosting (?!) on balconies where the human inhabitants don’t want them, I concluded that those pigeons must be very desperate. So that would mean that this solution might work particularly well in Waterlooville.

I bet it is possible to engage those who are currently feeding the pigeons in locations where they cause problems in a pigeon control and relocation project, leading to good results for everyone.

Put yourself in a pigeon’s shoes. Where would you like to sleep? In a nice condo or in a leaky shed that may not even have a roof? Pigeons are damn smart. It’s easier to work with their intelligence than against it. Some pigeons routinely take the tram or metro and one has even been spotted taking the ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo and back.

Need more convincing? Ha! Watch these 46 minutes by National Geographic.

The artificial structures can be made from scrap materials at almost no cost. They can also be made from recycled plastic, which is sturdy, completely non-toxic (environmentally friendly) and totally maintenance-free. It is highly durable.

You can get it from Kedel, who were the winners of the 2015 ‘Best Recycled Product’ award and are based in Colne, Lancashire, Second Life Products Wales (SPLW), who are based in Swansea and British Recycled Plastic, who are based in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire.

With a bit of luck, ha, you can even tie such a project to your own local plastic recycling. You can also come up with ways to let the structures fund themselves, partly or fully. (Allow people to name a pigeon or sponsor a “floor” in the structure, volunteer in all sorts of ways, what have you.)

You can combine it with all sorts of educational activities (responsibility for our own environment including for example recycling) or use it to, say, connect different generations. You can include it in primary school teaching. Lots of stuff you can do with it, I am sure.

Now, if I were such a borough or city council, I’d jump at such an opportunity to make many people happy, and get lots of kudos without ticking anyone off.

If the pigeons already know one or two people who feed them, they are likely to follow those people, who can lead the pigeons away, in daily steps. And you can also teach pigeons sound signals to respond to (signals they associate with the food).

The Royal Family  has been keeping pigeons for many decades, by the way.

When I searched for the problem on Twitter, for Waterlooville, I only found four tweets, none recent.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Anna Marie Marshall case – 2

This is the case of a homeless woman in York who had been found with an injured gull on a leash. An arrest warrant has been issued against the woman, who may not be well, so I understand.

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15391489.Woman_found____walking_injured_seagull_on_lead____in_York/

http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/15411980.Woman_wanted_on_warrant_over_seagull_allegations/

From the above page, I also understand that one of the charges against her – and likely the most serious one – is that she allegedly caused the injuries to the gull.

I find that unlikely. I have been lucky enough to have volunteered at a world-renowned wild-bird rehabilitator in the US (Lee Fox). It normally takes at least two people to hold and examine an injured bird. Putting a leash on a healthy bird, single-handedly?

Gulls are pretty feisty and far from cuddly. I find it very unlikely that this woman would have been able to capture and keep this gull with her if the animal had not already been hurt (badly).

Unless they have experience with birds, even regular veterinarians generally don’t know how to handle birds (so again, unless this bird was already injured considerably, this woman very likely would never have been able to keep the bird with her). Even a pigeon – usually much calmer than a gull – can be very hard to catch. Even a non-flighted pigeon can be very hard to catch if you don’t know what you’re doing (and even sometimes if you know what you’re doing).

I am trying to find out more, am contacting veterinary practices in York to see which one received the gull and what the nature and extent of its injuries were.

I have been in touch with her solicitor on Twitter, but he is not allowed to tell me much, of course, and I can only applaud his reticence. I’ve also left a message with an organization for the homeless in York, and one or two other places.

My sole interest is helping this woman if I can. Because this case is not about a healthy woman purposefully hurting a bird, by the sound of it.

I think it’s probably fairly disgusting that the police officers or prosecutor in question added the charge that the woman was yelling at the officers. In this case, that’s likely comparable to charging someone in a diabetic crisis with public intoxication (“drunk and disorderly”).

Of course, I may be wrong. Maybe the woman had a big shovel and suddenly stormed down Parliament Street, hit a few gulls, grabbed one and put it on a leash just to, say, re-enact a scene from a film with someone else recording video on a mobile to put on social media. That’s why I am trying to find more information.

I am not saying that the woman has not hurt the bird (as birds have much less dense bones than mammals and have a very different respiratory system, it’s probably easy to injure a bird accidentally), but by the sound of it, it clearly was not her intent to hurt the bird. She may have found the bird and intended to look after it. If she’d taken it to a veterinarian, she might have been turned away by reception staff. (Maybe she even had taken it to a vet practice. I don’t know.)

Neither can it be ruled out at this point that someone else put the injured animal on a leash and pressed the leash into her hands, told her to look after the bird. (That’s the sort of thing that goes on in some towns.)

Is there any CCTV of what happened?

If the woman had been in a different town or had run into different police officers, the case might not even have existed. It sounds like a waste of human resources and the taxpayers’ money.

Let’s ask this. If someone had found an injured gull and put the animal in a box in order to take it to a vet, had run into and yelled at a police officer who wanted to take the box away because he or she thought that the box contained stolen goods, would that person have been charged with the three counts Anna Marie Marshall has been charged with, even though technically, the exact same things would have happened, but with a different person?

(Generally speaking, whether you put a gull on a leash or in a box makes little difference, legally.)

Why do I bother? Because in my nearly thirteen years in Britain, I have seen a heck of a lot of injustice and it makes me sick. If I can do a little bit to decrease the injustice in Britain a little bit, I will.

(But I am no longer naive enough to think that the masses in Britain want anything else other than the misery they already have, because misery – like beauty – is in the eyes of the beholder. The British actually like most of their misery, it seems.)

In the town where I am based, you could kill a hundred gulls, so to speak, for instance with the sole purpose of annoying a nature lover, and police here would very likely merely consider it hilarious, also because lots of people actually complain about no more than gulls being gulls and calling out while flying around. Gulls have just as much right to be on the planet – or more as birds have been on the planet so much longer than humans. That’s all just as bad, or sad, but it shows you how unequally “justice” is meted out in Britain.

If anyone has any helpful feedback, please use the form below. Thanks.

 

 

Who loves to be glued to a desk?

There are very few geologists who went into earth science because they loved sitting at a desk behind a computer all day long (though particularly structural geologist do a lot of modelling).

I am no exception. Below is a view from the lamproite plug that I had in my fieldwork area in south-eastern Spain one year (Cancarix).

See what I mean?

By the way, a lamproite plug is like a tiny volcano with molten rock that came up from very deep in the earth. Kimberlite – which can contain diamonds – is a bit like that too.

I loved doing fieldwork, and I miss it. In fact, when I spend too much time behind a computer, typing up reports and so on, I tend to develop neuromusculoskeletal complaints of shoulders, arms, wrists and hands. I don’t like being indoors all the time either.

It is one of the reasons why I enjoy working with wildlife. It enables me to spend more time outside. I even have a small tent for this purpose.

Effective city pigeon management

Traditional pest control companies like spreading persistent myths that help keep them in business. Thankfully, humane wildlife deterrence practices – which are much more effective – are slowly gaining traction. Take pigeons.

They’re highly intelligent animals which we took from their native habitats in foreign countries – sea cliffs – and introduced all over the world. I didn’t know that until nearly two years ago. When it comes to pigeons, there seem to be three groups of people: People who hate them, people who love them and people who are indifferent to them.

I used to be in that third category. In the past, I hardly paid any attention to the critters.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this documentary:

Deterring pigeons the traditional way is expensive. That’s partly because it works against the intelligence of the animals instead of working with it. Birds have been on the planet much longer than humans – since 150 million years ago, roughly, whereas our oldest ancestors such as Orrorin tugenensis appeared only around 6 million years ago. So birds have built up a vast collective knowledge that we still lack.

Several cities, including Paris and Nottingham, successfully work with pigeons instead of against them. It results in healthier birds and makes – if you want that – controlling pigeon populations much easier (through the use of dummy eggs).

In city parks and on the rooftops of flat buildings, you can provide pigeon roosting, nesting and feeding structures – modern dovecotes – that are so attractive to pigeons – the former rock doves – that they’ll select them over the inferior spots where we humans usually don’t want pigeons.

Such structures can be made from recycled plastic, which is maintenance-free, non-toxic and available in many shapes and colours. You can use them educational facilities for the public too, connect them with their surroundings in a positive and meaningful way that can be highly inspirational.

It makes sense. Would you rather live in a shack that exposes you to the elements from almost all sides or in a nice cosy environment that feels like home?

PS
I’d be very happy to assist any party (city council, park owner, owner of large building with flat roof) who wishes to apply this.

You, me and plastic

Like just about everybody else, I use too much plastic and have started to take small steps toward reducing my plastic footprint.

Instead of toothpaste, I use baking soda that comes packaged in paper and cardboard. Using baking soda is cheaper than using toothpaste.

Instead of buying containers of liquid hand soap, I make my own from a quarter bar of soap and refill the containers I already have. This too is much cheaper than purchasing ready-made liquid hand soap and the effort involved in making my own is negligible.

I try to keep plastic food containers and reuse them at least once for seedlings on my window sill. It’s nowhere near enough. I would like to see a system geared toward collecting and reusing  the plastic used to package food.  Maybe I’ll start one myself one day.

 

Solidarity and compassion

There are two kinds of solidarity. Exclusive solidarity is essentially protectionism. Groups rally to stand up for their own kind and do each other favors such as recommend each other and give each other jobs. It exists on the basis of what divides us, what makes us different from others.

Birds do this too. If you are observant and like being outdoors, for instance go for walks, you may on occasion have seen crows appearing from all sides and forming a circle around a crow attacked by someone’s dog. You can also occasionally hear a lot of loud cackling, look up and see a group of magpies around a cat that has climbed into a tree.

Inclusive solidarity, on the other hand, is much closer to compassion. It does not ask many questions and exists on the basis of what we have in common.

Birds do this as well. If for example you happen to have lived with certain parrots, you may be quite familiar with this. I adopted two quaker parrots in 1994 and they both stood up for my cats if they thought some harm might be happening to one of my cats, for example if I had to stuff a pill into a cat’s mouth and make sure the cat swallowed it, for a very good reason. This happened regardless of whether the cat in question was kind to birds or not.

Birds are capable of compassion because they appear to have something called “theory of mind” just like humans do.

I have seen one of my little parrots quickly step forward and snatch a bit of feces off the other bird. It was stuck to a feather. That other bird never even noticed what happened. This was an act of selfless compassion based on the first bird’s reasoning that she would not want to have feces stuck to her own butt and therefore the other bird probably wouldn’t like it either.

I have two kinds of confirmation for this.

In the past, I have seen that particular bird come running down a series of perches (in a huge cage) and then stop short to avoid stepping into fresh feces.

This particular bird was a pretty intelligent rascal who went through phases of pranks involving feces. For a while, she took great delight in pressing her butt against the bars of the open cage to help her aim and then pelt poop at my shoes whenever I sat reading in a chair near the cage, for example. Poopball. Goal! This means that the bird assumed that I would not like getting feces on me and also that she knew that getting feces on my shoes wasn’t so bad.

This bird has forever changed the way I look at birds. I used to see birds as completely devoid of anything resembling human intelligence. Birds flew, hopped and tweeted. That was it. Oh, and they laid eggs, too. Particularly the flying made me experience them as distant, I presume. Removed. Different.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

I still remember the look that parrot – the longest-living of the two – gave me when I apologized to her for it having taken me so long to realize how intelligent she was. How stupid the two of them must have thought we humans were and how desperate they must have felt at times. “Is she ever going to get it?” She was a very wise one, that one. (She started showing me, by anticipating my moves and wishes and acting on them, all by herself. The first time that happened I was stunned.)

We’d all do ourselves a favor if we could focus more on inclusive solidarity and less on protectionism. I believe we’re slowly getting there.

 

Natural friends

Yesterday evening, I saw up to four foxes within a short period of time. I saw one, a gorgeous one with a very fluffy tail and an equally fluffy face, very close to my home. I’d heard a fox call out repeatedly, before I went out. Maybe it was that one.

A little bit later, I saw two or three scrawnier-looking types a few hundred yards away from my home. They’d been up to something and I don’t rule out that they’d caught a bird and were fighting over it. There was a lot of rustling and some squeaking going on, but when I walked up to enquire, the foxes ran off, abandoning whatever they’d been up to.

Last year, I saw up to six foxes one evening, but that was much later in the evening, and I had purposefully gone out to look for foxes that day. While I was standing in the dark and couldn’t actually see the fox, one very close to me warned either me or, more likely, another fox to stay off its turf, by the sound of it. That felt awesome, to be that close, to have a fox call out right next to you. It was that time of the year when the young ones are establishing their territories.

I have seen a fox scale a 2-m-high wall as if it wasn’t there and I’ve also seen one flatten itself and slip under a gate, through a very narrow space.

If you happen to be living in the territory of foxes, and need some help with that, then it is useful to know that if you kill a fox, you usually merely enable another fox to move in. Traditional pest controllers and exterminators tend to want to kill animals, unfortunately. It is much more effective to work with specialists who understand animals and get them to cooperate.

What do they want, foxes? Essentially the same things you want. So it is often possible to entice them to go somewhere else. A good book about this is “Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife” by John Hadidian and others. (I am lucky enough to have it.)

It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with animals

From the description (6 May 2014):

Lesli Bisgould is Canada’s first animal rights lawyer. For ten years, she acted for individuals and organizations in a variety of animal-related cases in the only practice of its kind in the country. She has fought for the rights of students who objected to dissection in science class, for critics of facilities where animals are held captive, and for changes in the law to ameliorate the legal status of animals. Lesli is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law where she instructs a course on animals and the law. Lesli is the author of “Animals and the Law”, the only Canadian law text on the subject, published by Irwin Law. Lesli was the 2012 international law lecturer for Australian animal protection institute, Voiceless – she undertook a 12-stop lecture tour of Australia, comparing the commercial hunts for seals in Canada and kangaroos in Australia. In recent years, Lesli’s full-time work has been in the human rights and poverty law fields, and she is currently the Barrister at Legal Aid Ontario’s Clinic Resource Office.

Grow your own food inside a computer

At least, that is what it looks like, like you’re growing vegetables inside a computer case. This is a TED Talk by Caleb Harper.

TED Talks won’t let me embed this TED Talk, so you will have to click on the above link.

You can grow your own tasty Isle of Wight, Spanish or Floridian tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli, and a lot more, by recreating local climate and nutritional conditions with the aid of a computer, using recipes that you can exchange for free.

I want one!!!

This YouTube video show you how you can build one. This is not for everyone, so it is a great projects for neighborhood communities!