How I displaced a family of pigeons from my roof

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A couple of weeks ago, I found a bird's nest outside my window. Two eggs laid to brew in the middle of a scatter of slimy brown twigs arranged in a tightly knit bowl. Pigeon eggs, I soon found out.

My window opens up into a 10-foot or so long crack between the annex of our house's roof and our neighbor's third story wall. It's about half a foot wide and protected from wind and rain — perfect for a family of pigeons to raise their kids. But here's the thing: I don't like pigeons, at least not the dirty feral pigeons that live in cities. I don't like the sounds they make, the way they fly into your face, the way their shit pollutes the air. I've been shat on twice, once in NYC and once in Paris. And now, in my home in SF, they cooed and hooted and scuttled around on the rooftop above my head all morning at dawn. It was driving me crazy.

My roommate and I decided to remove the eggs. He put on some surgical gloves and reached out into the nook, carefully removing them from the nest and placing them in a Ziploc bag. He then grabbed the twigs that made up the nest and put them in a garbage bag. I bought some bird spikes and placed them along the ridge so they wouldn't be able to land there. Maybe if the eggs weren't there anymore, we thought, the parents would stop coming back. I was wrong.

Over the next few days, the pigeons only got louder. I was getting less sleep and growing more anxious about the imminent pigeon mass exodus that would turn my roof into their global hub. Were they mad that I put spikes on their nesting space and took away their eggs? Did they want revenge? "I doubt if your birds were mourning simply over lost eggs," says Bill Mitiu, a regional director of the American Pigeon Racing Union. "That was probably the male courting his hen and calling her back to the next so they can get back to work and have more eggs as soon as possible."

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Mitiu also told me that, unlike many other birds, feral pigeons don't weave their nests on treetops; they simply look for flat narrow surfaces that are safely tucked away from bad weather risks and stack twigs and straws on it to make comfortable bedding. They like to be high up on buildings to avoid predators, and prefer ledges to large surfaces. Once they build a nest in a safe place, they stay there forever as long as they have access to food. Just removing a nest isn't enough; they'll simply come back and build another one. Basically, we had to make our rooftop look so scary to them that the risks of landing on it would outweigh the benefits of returning to a spot that they now considered home. Our first step, then, was to find out exactly what was going on up there.

My friend Christian came over on Monday afternoon; we tossed a 16-foot ladder against the exterior of the house but it only reached halfway. Christian tried climbing out of my window and wedging himself into the nook, but it was too narrow and he would have gotten stuck. We decided to try again the next day.

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On Tuesday, we borrowed a neighbor's ladder, which appeared to be longer, but it still wasn't long enough. I posted a Craigslist ad offering $30 to anyone who would bring and loan us a 30+ foot ladder; I also put up a request to friends on Twitter and Facebook. Meanwhile, the pigeons on the roof kept getting louder and more aggressive. I bought some earplugs at Walgreens and threw my pillow against the window every half an hour, which made them shut up for a few seconds at a time.

We finally made it to the rooftop on Thursday. Jeremy, who plays on my volleyball team, arrived at our house with a giant 30-foot ladder attached to the hood of his Scion. My roommate and I bought some more spikes, aluminum foil, super glue, bird repellent glue, all purpose glue, and some rat poison pellets. We propped the ladder up against the house and went up with all our gear.

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Over the next two days, we set up the ultimate pigeon hell — a labyrinth of deterrents that would hopefully make them find another rooftop to hang out and have babies on. Here's what we did:

1. Blocked the two entrances to the nook completely with spikes.
2. Superglued sheets of aluminum foil to the roof edge; pigeons like ledges, but they don't like shiny moving objects.
3. Applied pigeon repellent glue — which is sticky and unpleasant to land on —along the edge of the roof directly above the nook. This was where most of the early morning cooing and scuttling was taking place.
4. Cut the rest of the spike rails into little blocks and glued them down along the roof edges and next to the nook, so that any attempts to land would be thwarted by the possibility of getting stabbed in the butt.

We decided not to use the rat poison pellets — it's inhumane, bad to have pigeon carcasses on the roof (which, according to the guy at the hardware store, often serves as a new nesting ground for other pigeon families), and dangerous if the pellets somehow end up in the yard and the dogs eat them.

After that, the pigeons stopped coming back. I felt a little bit guilty for taking their eggs and slightly disappointed that I didn't get to see baby pigeons — because they grow to full size in 28 days, baby pigeons are rarely seen — but mostly, I was just glad I would be getting a good night's sleep.

Thumbnail image via pigeonmania.com