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That's not 'amore' for the pigeons of Venice

June 2, 2008 | 10:17 am


Anyone who's wandered the charming Piazza San Marco in Venice knows that the only staple of the square isn't just the breathtaking architecture and lovely surrounding canals, but a familiar site to Americans: pigeons. People pay a few euros for a small bag of feed at many squares in Italy -- and most of Europe -- encouraging the birds to land on their arms or hands.

But not all are fans, as evidenced in today's Column One by Times foreign correspondent Tracy Wilkinson, in which we learn of a battle between pigeon lovers and haters:

A band of animal lovers armed with skull-and-crossbones flags zips over the choppy Venice lagoon in speedboats. They dock at the palace-lined piazza, lug out 20-pound sacks of birdseed and scatter the food for all to eat. Or peck.

The pirate pigeon-saviors have made three lightning raids into St. Mark's, the first two at the crack of dawn and now, at midday, to deliberately confront the police and their ban on feeding the birds.

So goes Venice's battle over its ever-multiplying pigeons. "Flying rats," in the view of the mayor -- airborne menaces that poop all over precious, centuries-old marble statues. "Cool," in the view of many tourists -- can you imagine a picture of St. Mark's without them?

Part One of the city's anti-pigeon plan, launched May 1, was to force the 19 licensed bird feed vendors to close their kiosks. Eventually, people trying to feed the birds will be fined, city officials say.

"The problem is the number," says Pierantonio Belcaro, Venice's chief environmental officer. By City Hall's calculation, Venice should accommodate, ideally, about 2,400 pigeons. Instead, he says, there are 60,000.

But Venice lawmakers aren't the only ones frustrated with the birds. Last year Hollywood became the first area in the nation to employ birth control -- in the form of kibble on rooftops -- to shrink the pigeon population pooping on the cars and buildings they adore.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Tracy Wilkinson/Los Angeles Times

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