Downtown returns to normal; pigeon hunter is home free
Friday, March 24, 2006

A day after a pigeon-fighter mistaken for a sniper spawned fear Downtown, laws governing man-bird engagement proved inadequate. Public diligence was lax. Pigeons seemed defiant.

All was normal along Penn Avenue between Cecil Place and Mentor Way. Where, on Wednesday, buildings were locked down and special operations officers swarmed, yesterday, office workers smoked and joked as a bicycle cop drifted by.

City officials showed little interest in going after Richard Wills, the Fayette County man who stalked pigeons with a pellet rifle, or his employer, Pittsburgh Allegheny County Thermal. Neither Mr. Wills nor a supervisor could be reached for comment.

City Solicitor Susan Malie said she didn't see a legal theory under which the city could demand reimbursement for the costs of its muscular response.

In any case, Pittsburgh Police Chief Dominic J. Costa said, costs were minimal. At most, five of the city's special operations officers racked up a bit of overtime, he said. The rest were on duty.

Pittsburgh's thick code of ordinances contains a ban on firing airguns, but Mr. Wills may not have squeezed off a shot, said Ms. Malie. Section 607.07 bars the use of "facsimiles of firearms" with "intent to terrify, alarm, threaten or intimidate people."

Intimidating pigeons is legal.

The Allegheny County Health Department hasn't gotten a plea for help from PACT, said department spokesman David Zazac. In any case, it has only advice to offer -- lots of advice.

Mr. Zazac rattled off anti-pigeon measures: screens, wires, spikes, sloping surfaces, sticky stuff, fake owls, sound machines and nest eradication.

"Pellet guns are really not an option," he said. "You can shoot yourself or others."

The best option is to eliminate their food and water sources, he said.

On Mentor Way, next to the scene of Wednesday's drama, there was little reason for hope that things would get better. Five pigeons sat calmly on a ledge, just a short flight from around 100 slices of Italian bread strewn on the alley floor.

Far from viewing the problem as urgent, Mayor Bob O'Connor said he saw a bright side to the paramilitary operation driven by a man and some birds.

"If nothing else," he said, "it was a great rehearsal."

First published on March 24, 2006 at 12:00 am
Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542.
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