Among the many things that are oddly common in San Francisco, an unkempt pigeon devouring days-old leftovers on the streets is certainly one of them.
So while it didn't surprise us to see this feral pigeon chomping down on some chicken fried rice from a to-go box at BART the other day, it definitely made us wonder: Why?
The answer is simple: Like Americans, feral pigeons have fallen victim to convenience food. They prefer french fries over insects, and do you really blame them? It's much easier to feast on Doritos than head over to Lake Merced and try to catch a moth or dig up a worm.
We spoke to Noreen Weeden, a community volunteer with the Golden Gate Audubon Society, who gave us a little more insight into the city's dirtiest scavengers:
SFW: Can you frame the issue with pigeons and their eating problem in San Francisco?
Weeden: The street pigeons are not a native bird, but it's not good for any bird to be eating human food. It's unfortunate that people don't compost leftover food and put trash in the trash cans. Sometime, it is windy and they blow out of trash containers that aren't covered ... but we could do a much better job.
SFW: So it's our fault there are so many pigeons pigging out on the streets?
SFW: What are pigeons supposed to be eating, if not PB&J?
Weeden: In their environment, they'd normally be eating seeds and nectar from flowers and insects -- that type of thing. Human food is just not healthy for them.
SFW: So then why do they prefer to eat the garbage on the streets?
Weeden: It's an easy handout.
SFW: Like convenience food?
Weeden: Yes. And people feed birds at lakes -- they throw a bunch of bread out there and that's not healthy. That's like throwing Twinkies at toddlers -- they will eat it but it's not good for them.
SFW: Are they picky eaters? Are there certain leftovers they prefer over others?
Weeden: I think they will take advantage of whatever is available.
SFW:So this can't be healthy for them? How does it affect their health?
Weeden: They eat small rocks and pebbles to help digest their grains, so I don't know how eating Chinese food impacts their health.
SFW: What can we do to deal with the pigeon problem in San Francisco?
Weeden: Some cities in Europe looked at a solution where artists built some artistically styled dove coats, or a place for them to roost and sleep. And that would be the only place people could feed the pigeons. So they kept it very clean and it reduced the pigeon population in those locations.
SFW: Otherwise what's your advice to San Francisco?
Weeden: If you have leftover food, put it in the compost if you can't eat for your next meal.