Originally created 07/25/02

USC Aiken is running out of ideas to deal with its problem pigeons



AIKEN - Willie Carter stares into a stormy sky, clapping his hands above his head.

The pigeons roosting on the brick ledge far above the entrance to the University of South Carolina Aiken's Wellness Center fly off in tandem. If nature calls, they respond.

Scientists say the release helps equalize their flight. Mr. Carter says he just knows that it's messy and that he has to clean it up.

Mr. Carter has spent 10 years with the building and grounds department on the campus. Each week he pressure-washes the entrance to the Wellness Center three times.

Ten months ago, the university tried to solve the problem, but pigeons, it seems, are brighter than popularly perceived.

Just across from the Wellness Center entrance, the university placed a sonic repellent called a BirdXPeller. Every three minutes it belts out recordings of the distress calls of different birds to create a "danger zone." Its advertising claims to "frighten birds away for good."

The loud, disturbing calls worked for a while. Mr. Carter had to pressure-wash the center's entrance only once a week at first, then once a month.

"Then I guess they just got used to it," Mr. Carter said.

When the bonus gift that came with the noise machine - a vinyl, inflatable predator decoy - deflated, John Cumbee, the university's maintenance director, didn't bother to blow it up again. It had hung near the entrance by a roaring air-conditioning unit, which fails to drown out the BirdXPeller.

"I don't know what we're going to do next," said Tony Ateca, the director of operations. "We chose the BirdXPeller because it was the most friendly way to get rid of them, rather than a lethal means."

Charleston County found a different solution to keepingflocks out of a city parking garage. It fed the pigeons corn coated with Avitrol, a poison that makes the birds appear drunk and signals others to stay away.

Mr. Carter has resorted to clapping because it makes his job a little easier. Each time someone walks by and the BirdXPeller screeches like an owl in distress, he has to explain one more time.

"They think it's a real bird," he said.

Reach Carly Phillips at (803) 648-1395 or carly.phillips@augustachronicle.com.