MADRID — The Spanish city of Cádiz will undertake what some may see as a Sisyphean task: relocating 5,000 pigeons hundreds of miles away after a complaint that the birds are driving away tourists from the terraces of cafes in the most visited part of the southern port city.
Carrier pigeons probably date back to ancient Persia. But under a plan announced last month by Cádiz officials, the pigeons themselves will be carried: They will be captured and transported next year to a thinly populated countryside location in eastern Spain. There, they will find a new home in a dovecote near the town of Ribarroja del Turia.
The exile solution to pigeon overcrowding is being presented as a more animal-friendly approach than that taken in other places, where pigeons are treated like flying rats to be culled or fed contraceptive pills that may also be consumed by other species.
The city will use “the most respectful and sustainable method” to keep its pigeon population under control, Álvaro de la Fuente, the city official in charge of environmental policy, said in a statement.
The city came up with the plan after Horeca, a regional federation of hoteliers, complained two years ago that the pigeons were menacing tourists, particularly in the city’s emblematic cathedral square.
“When the pigeon gets hungry, it can get very forceful and often doesn’t even wait for the tourists to leave their table to go for their food,” said Antonio De María Ceballos, a restaurant owner and the president of Horeca.
Horeca also argued that pigeon excrement presents a health risk for waiters and other employees who have to clean pigeon-occupied dining and drinking areas.
The risk, De María Ceballos said, was confirmed last year by a court ruling in Catalonia that upheld the disability claim of a Barcelona tourism official who said she contracted pulmonary fibrosis from exposure to floating particles of bird excrement while working in pigeon-filled city squares.
“Nobody here has anything against pigeons or other animals, but something must be done when they proliferate to the point of presenting a health risk,” De María Ceballos said.
“Of course,” he added, “we want to avoid losing some revenues from tourists, but this issue is really about whether we believe it is important to keep Cádiz’s image as a clean and healthy city.”
The city hopes to carry out the relocation next year. The 5,000 or so pigeons will have to be trapped and undergo health checks before they are transported and released in eastern Spain, about 375 miles from Cádiz. The hope is that the highly adaptable rock pigeons will be happy to resettle there rather than be tempted to make the return flight.
De la Fuente, the city official, is also calling on residents to play their part and stop overfeeding pigeons.
He argued that fighting pigeon overpopulation can also helped avoid the spread of “other plagues like rodents.”
City Hall will distribute 3,000 leaflets about how to deal with pigeons, hoping to educate rather than fine its residents for overindulging the birds.
In London, under legislation adopted a decade ago, people risk a fine of as much as $636 for feeding pigeons around Trafalgar Square.