| Tom Cullen. (Reuters)
New York, April 18 (Reuters): A falconer who helped chase sea gulls away from planes at New York’s Kennedy Airport is using hawks to quell a deluge of pigeon droppings in a park near bustling Times Square in the heart of the city.
Master falconer Tom Cullen, a leather glove running up his left arm and pouches filled with dead chicks hanging from his sides, whistled commands in Bryant Park on Thursday to Mocha, a Harris hawk whose patrols encourage the pigeons to move elsewhere.
The park, which spreads a block long on busy 42nd Street, is a popular spot for lunching and lounging, but has been plagued by pigeons, park administrators said.
“Pigeon droppings falling on people’s heads has been a problem,” said Daniel Biederman, chief of the Bryant Park Restoration Corp., who said the group learned that falcons had been used to keep pigeons away from the Tower of London.
“Besides droppings on people’s heads, they (pigeons) eat flowers and they are not a native species. They don’t really belong here.”
Cullen said that although his hawks do not normally feed on pigeons, the birds of prey would put a scare into them.
“We’re building up their stress level,” Cullen said. “This is about them choosing to go elsewhere to feed, to break the habit of loitering so everybody can enjoy the park.”
“The Harris hawk is the only species of raptor that hunts in packs,” he added. “This way we can fly several at the same time to build the level of stress. They (the hawks) are very gregarious and work well with people.”
The hawk patrol has been in place since Monday and park officials will decide at the end of the week whether to extend the programme for a month.
“We’re trying to reduce the number of pigeons without going through anything like trapping or poisoning,” Cullen said. “This is an environmentally safe way of doing it.”
Cullen, who devised a massive “bird abatement” programme to deal with sea gulls at Kennedy Airport, an hour’s drive from the center of Manhattan, sees progress.
“There’s been a fairly dramatic difference,” he said. “When we arrived there were four to five big clusters of pigeons hanging out. They would descend on people having lunch.”
One little group of pigeons could be seen huddled together on a large branch overhead as Cullen pursed his lips and whistled to summon Mocha from her perch atop a kiosk.
“It’s kind of a shuttle game,” said Cullen, who is originally from Goshen, New York, and polished his craft at The National Birds of Prey Centre in Newent, Gloucestershire, in England. “They are not going to die just because they leave here. They’re going to be someone else’s problem. That’s life.”
Anti-pigeon feelings were not universal. “I like the pigeons. They make the park lively,” said parkgoer May Anderson, sitting on a bench.