Venice, Italy has stood the test of time through several invasions and world wars, but now its distinct architecture is being threatened by pigeons. The authorities have had to act as the birds and their droppings have been jeopardizing city structures and tourism.
Pigeon poo threatens leaning tower
It may not quite be the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but engineers are desperate to save the great Campanile bell tower that has shifted several millimeters over the past half century and is in danger of collapse, like it did unexpectedly in 1902. But, gravity is not this structure’s biggest threat, nor the high tides. Engineers have blamed the corrosion of the newer 1912 structure on pigeon poo.
No more room to roost
Venice’s famous Renaissance, Byzantine and Gothic towers have become perfect places for pigeons to roost, but overpopulation of the birds has caused damage to the architecture and been a nuisance to hoteliers, restaurateurs and shopkeepers who have to foot the bill. They scratch and peck at the marble for its calcium content, pooping what has been branded a “biohazard” by the Italian Cultural Works Ministry.
Following recommendations from the Italian Cultural Works Ministry, feeding pigeons in St Mark’s Square, which is almost as synonymous with the birds as Trafalgar in London, was banned on May 1 last year. People caught will eventually face a similar penalty to that in the English capital, which was a £50 on-the-spot penalty fine when the ban went into force in 2003.
Rogue pigeon feeders
Last year, the media reported animal-lovers careering into St Mark’s Square in speedboats with skull-and-crossbones to feed the pigeons. Protestors hurled bags of bird feed in direct confrontation with the police. Officials ignored the demonstrators and banned licensed feed vendors from operating .
Keep birds lean
The problem is the number of pigeons, officials said. A manageable number would be 2,400 but there are more like 60,000, city chief environmental officer Pierantonio Belcaro said. In an interview with the Seattle Times, he added: “Overfeeding is a problem because those that are ill and not strong live longer than they should. It is no longer a natural thing.”
Some locals put the problem down to the lack of cats and – oddly – Napoleon. One hotelier said in the report that the French leader was responsible for introducing the birds. Meanwhile, a five-star hotel manager was searching for a solution over laying blame. The hotel had gone to extreme lengths to keep pigeons away from a rooftop terrace, introducing nets, decoy hawks and even ultra sound to shoo the birds.
Stop the pigeons
The only way to help Venice preserve its architecture for visitors to enjoy for years to come is to not feeding the pigeons. Keep your panini safely tucked away and do not give any money to rogue feed sellers, of which there were several on top of the licensed vendors in the early part of 2008. The authorities were planning to introduce fines for anyone even seen giving out tucker to the birds, so that could be reason enough to ward you away from going home penniless and on an empty stomach.
Photo of pigeons, St Mark’s Square, Venice, by Dawvon