Birds can be detriment to public health

First Posted: 11/19/2013

We have had inquiries as to diseases related to pigeons and their droppings, particularly as it relates to downtown areas. While there are three diseases associated with pigeon droppings — histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis and psittacosis (parrot fever) — healthy people would be relatively unaffected. This is not true for compromised individuals.

Routine cleaning of droppings on windowsills and floors places the individual at very little risk. However, one should wear disposable gloves to be on the safe side. Cleaning around areas where they roost is a different matter; workers should use protective clothing as well as respirators to minimize potential issues.

But the same cannot be said for our newer residents, Canada geese. What seemed to start as a small gaggle at Robeson Community College has grown to several large groups. Most of these are no longer migratory, they are categorized as resident. Because they tend to breed where they were bred, populations will only increase as natural enemies — excluding humans — are numbered as one: coyotes.

Typically you will see geese in wide open spaces where they have complete vision around them. A good example is the 80 plus of them that hang out at the new soccer field at Lumberton High School. There is no brush around the fields and the geese feel safe; however, they less often go onto the football field because of the stands obscuring their vision. This theory is somewhat unraveled when they are strolling down Fayetteville Road but I guess they feel safe there too.

So what is wrong with feeling one with nature? Most people like to see a few geese, but when the populations increase and one notes that they have 1.5 pounds of droppings per day, problems follow. Besides over-grazing, loading nutrients into ponds, degradading water supply, behaving aggressively and creating safety hazards, there are a whole host of human health problems associated with their droppings.

Just to list a few, there are parasites (cryptosporidium, giardia and toxoplasmosis among others), bacteria (campylobacter jejuni, chlyamydiosis, E-coli, listeria, pasteurella multocida and salmonella), viruses (avian influenza and encephalatic viruses) and fungus (histoplasmosis). The take-home message, as always it seems, is to wash your hands when you come in contact with geese droppings and to ensure your clothes get laundered.

As far as moving them along from your property, coyote silhouettes work, but you have to keep moving them as geese catch on that the coyote doesn’t seem to be overly active. Of course some of our population thinks we have enough of the real coyotes that we shouldn’t need decoys. One could also do some landscaping and add bushes that will make your property less inviting.

At the soccer field, we will continue to play through and try not to trip over or into the droppings, which is near impossible when the field is wet. We will now be moving into educating the athletes about prevention of that long list of diseases found when associating with Canada geese.

William Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.

comments powered by Disqus