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Pigeons at Embassy Suites

Pigeons crowd the top of the west column on Embassy Suites in downtown Lincoln Jan. 31, 2012. (ERIC GREGORY/Lincoln Journal Star

The hotel's unwanted guests arrived in the fall, coming and going at all hours, ignoring efforts to get rid of them -- and leaving something behind on the roof and sidewalk below.

"I was hoping they'd at least pay the rent," said Steve Hilton, general manager of Embassy Suites. "I've talked to a few people ... and we're not sure if they migrated from another part of Lincoln."

The pigeons roosting on his roof by day could be the same birds spending their nights beneath the Rosa Parks Way bridge, directly above the parking lot of the Cornhusker Place treatment center.

The same birds that prompted a wildlife expert and health department staffer to stand beneath the bridge recently -- looking down, then up -- trying to figure out how to solve what could be a growing pigeon problem.

"I think there's a perception by people that there's an increased number of pigeons in the downtown area -- or that they're more often frequenting downtown," said Scott Hygnstrom, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wildlife expert.

Without a hard count, it's impossible to know, he added.

But they are changing their habits, flocking and flying from the south edge of the Haymarket to the top of the Grand Manse to the roof of Embassy Suites -- and to the attention of the hotel staff.

"It doesn't impede on the hotel operation. It doesn't impede on safety or well-being," Hilton said. "It's more a nuisance."

His staff tried to take care of the problem with scarecrow-type tactics. It tried fake owls, too, but the pigeons caught on. Now, his hotel is working with a another company to try to evict the birds.

"We're hotel guys," Hilton said. "We're taking care of guests. We're not in the business of trying to find a way to eradicate birds."

And neither is the expert. Hygnstrom suggests a process called integrated pest management: "The timely use of a variety of cost-effective control methods to reduce damage to a tolerable level."

Notice, he says, it doesn't say anything about eradication.

"We deal with damage. We reduce damage to a tolerable level."

Those methods include exclusion -- removing food and water and making roosts unfriendly, by installing spikes, for instance. They include fertility control, but that's a long-term process; you'd have to treat about 75 percent of all birds over several years to see a decline.

And they include lethal means, such as trapping and euthanizing, or shooting them with pellet guns while they sleep.

"It's very humane. It's very selective. They're unconscious, and death comes quickly."

Methods that don't work? Moving them out of town. They'll beat you home, Hygnstrom said. And because they're so used to humans -- and to traffic and action and motion -- they're not easily frightened by scarecrows or plastic owls.

Pigeons can be more than a nuisance; their droppings are associated with human fungal diseases, he said.

"That's why the health department gets involved and is concerned."

The department showed him areas beneath the Rosa Parks Way bridge with piles of bird droppings. Hygnstrom was a little surprised, because the bridge was designed well, with slanted beams to try to keep the birds from roosting.

He recommended the department talk to both a private pest control firm and the USDA's Wildlife Services.

The department is working on a plan, said Nancy Clark, environmental health supervisor. It also is approaching the Public Works Department to see what can be done to the underside of the bridge.

Not long ago, StarTran was having the same problem, just to the east of Cornhusker Place. Droppings were falling on the city bus system's parking lot, storage area and a walkway.

"It was just an unsanitary situation to have drivers walking through all of that," Manager Larry Worth said.

About a year ago, StarTran strung a net across the bridge bottom, forcing the birds -- and their droppings -- elsewhere.

"And I don't know if it's much of a problem anymore," Worth said.

Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

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Peter Salter is a reporter.

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