ECHUCA’S pigeon plague has just cost the Uniting Church in Hare St an astonishing $27,500 to clean up.
It took specialists six days to complete work on walls in general and roofs in particular – and that’s not necessarily a permanent fix, it just solved an immediate problem.
But the unexpected cost has also gutted the church’s restoration fund to maintain the 117-year-old main building.
Leading the coup against pigeon poo, church treasurer John Ferris said despite the cost it was a problem that had to be dealt with as soon as possible.
“It’s something we had to do, their poo is caustic, so it was something we couldn’t avoid,” Mr Ferris said.
“Echuca has a massive pigeon problem, and you can tell that whenever you look at any high roof in town,” he said.
“We could have kept going, but we just can’t afford to do it, we’ve had to scrape the bottom of the barrel.
“There are now bird spikes along most of the roofs so hopefully we don’t have to do this again.
“One gutter was growing a small crop of oats, there was enough there for about five bags to the acre.
“We considered going to the shire to see if they had some extermination program or anything to help, it’d be nice to have someone leading a program in the town.”
But Campaspe Shire mayor Adrian Weston said the problem was news to him.
“As bird life goes, pigeons haven’t really been on our radar. I know there were concerns with corellas destroying plant life and recreation reserves in the past year,” Cr Weston said.
“It’s not an easy problem, generally it’s not systemic. But in this instance it appears they’re becoming a real pest in the area.”
Campaspe regulatory and community services general manager Paul McKenzie said it was up to property owners to manage pigeons on their premises.
He said council can offer advice on eradicating the problem if reported, but would not take action unless it was creating a health or safety issue that impacted public property, parks, nature strips, footpaths etc.
In addition to building damage, a concentration of pigeon excrement represents some potential health risks.
Pigeon droppings are not only unsightly; their acid content can lead to the deterioration of soft stone and cause long-term damage to buildings.
Nest droppings and feathers block gutters and rainwater pipes causing water damage to buildings.
Their droppings can also lead to hazards on footpaths, especially for the elderly.
Pigeons are capable of lifting loose roof coverings, tiles and battens to gain entry into the roof voids, which can significantly damage the structure by allowing water penetration.
Around public and buildings of historic and tourist interest further problems can arise as the visitors start feeding pigeons. Their numbers will increase dramatically, leading to extensive faeces and fouling.
The organic, nutrient rich accumulation of pigeon droppings, including feathers, detritus and debris under a nest provides an ideal environment for disease. This encourages fungi and bacteria to grow and proliferate.
Pigeons can also carry a number of potentially infectious diseases such as salmonella, tuberculosis and ornithosis (a mild form of psittacosis with pneumonia-like symptoms).
Histoplasmosis is caused by a fungus (Histoplasma capsulatum) and can affect both humans and animals. Infection in humans occurs when airborne fungal spores are inhaled, especially after the nesting has been disturbed. Most infections are mild and produce either no symptoms or a minor influenza like illness. On occasion the disease can cause high fever, blood abnormalities, pneumonia and even death.
Dusts containing H. capsulatum spores can be aerosolized during construction, excavation, or demolition. Once airborne, spores can be carried easily by wind currents over long distances.
Pigeon droppings appear to be the most important source of the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans in the environment. The fungus is largely found in accumulations of droppings around roosting and nesting sites.
Like histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis infections are usually mild and may be without symptoms. Persons with weakened immune systems however, are susceptible to more serious infection. The disease is acquired by inhaling the yeast-like cells of the fungus. Two forms of cryptococcosis occur in humans. The generalised form begins with a lung infection and spreads to other areas of the body, particularly the central nervous system, and is usually fatal unless treated. The cutaneous (skin) form is characterised by acne-like skin eruptions or ulcers with nodules just under the skin.
Candidiasis is a yeast or fungus infection spread by pigeons and psittacosis is normally mild in humans, however serious illness may occur rarely.
Pigeon nesting can also harbour parasites including ticks and mites that may become unwanted visitors in our buildings.