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So simple: Stop feeding the pigeons

Alderman James Cappleman talks about his ward some issues he faces ward. Tuesday August 14 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Alderman James Cappleman talks about his ward and some of the issues he faces in the ward. Tuesday, August 14, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 25, 2013 1:01PM

Herbert “Bud” Govert Jr., the Indiana man who has been rounding up pigeons from Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, likes to keep it vague about what happens to the birds when he gets them home.

Does he use them for live pigeon shoots, as an animal rights group accused earlier this week in offering a $1,000 reward for information that could help them identify him?

“We have no more organized pigeon shoots,” Govert told me by phone Wednesday after somebody gave him up in pursuit of the reward.

How about disorganized pigeon shoots?

“If you want to call it that,” said Govert, a 63-year-old retired bricklayer and outdoorsman from Lake County.

Mostly, the pigeons are used for training bird dogs, Govert said.

A fellow could get a lot of dog training done with the 200 or so pigeons that Govert hauled out of the 46th Ward recently with the blessing of Ald. James Cappleman.

“There’s other guys that bring their dogs,” Govert explained. “It’s not a big deal.”

It’s honestly not that big a deal with me either, which is not to say I endorse the practice of substituting live pigeons for the clay targets usually used in trapshooting — which is what it means to conduct a pigeon shoot. I realize it’s a very big deal with animal rights activists.

It’s just that I try to keep things in perspective, and after spending some time at pigeon central Wednesday with Cappleman, I’m more in touch with his perspective, which is that he needs help ridding his ward of pigeons and he’ll take it wherever he can get it.

Cappleman believes that pigeons and their droppings are one of the factors holding back efforts to improve economic development and combat crime in his ward, which sounds like a stretch until you walk a few blocks along Broadway dodging pigeons as you pass vacant storefronts whose roofs have been eaten through by the birds’ acidic guano.

Those same vacant storefronts are where the drug dealers hang out every afternoon as soon as school is dismissed — and where gunfire sometimes breaks out.

That’s why Cappleman joined Ald. Danny Solis (25th) in December to co-sponsor an ordinance that would ban pigeon-feeding on the public way, making violators liable for a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

News accounts of Cappleman’s efforts came to the attention of Govert, who said he went to the alderman to offer his services.

“I was just trying to do him a favor,” said Govert, who captured the pigeons in a city parking lot by luring them with feed and shooting a net over them.

Both men are evasive as to whether Govert explained what he planned to do with the pigeons back in Indiana.

“I understand people are concerned about the plight of pigeons. I appreciate that,” Cappleman said. “I’m concerned about people getting shot on the 4600 bock of North Broadway. That’s my priority. That priority surpasses any concerns about pigeons.”

I would think most people share his priority, as do I, which won’t make us popular with the animal rights crowd.

When I asked Cappleman if the pigeon problem is anything new in his ward, he responded by noting the ordinance he and Solis introduced is the exact same proposal offer by Solis and Cappleman’s predecessor, Helen Shiller, six years ago.

Cappleman walked me over to the pigeon-encrusted sidewalk outside the long vacant Gerber Building at Wilson and Broadway, where the CTA will soon embark on a $230 million rehab of its Uptown station.

When it reopens, “I cannot have a repeat of this,” he said, meaning the destruction caused by pigeon droppings.

The pigeons were congregated in front of a sign reading “Do Not Feed Pigeons, Chicago Municipal Code Sect. 728-710, Up to $500 Fine.”

Cappleman said he has difficulty getting police to enforce that ordinance, which actually makes no mention of pigeon feeding, instead prohibiting leaving garbage where it can become food for rats. It says nothing about “flying rats,” as many people refer to pigeons.

Pigeon feeders can be difficult to catch in the act, said Cappleman, who has tussled with one serial pigeon-feeding couple who drive through the ward at regular intervals to spread food.

As if to prove the point, a woman dumped her load of bread crumbs on the sidewalk while the alderman had his back turned talking to me. The woman gave me a goofy grin as she walked past.

Cappleman said all the “humane” methods of removing pigeons suggested by animal activists either don’t work (as in the case of anti-roosting spike strips) or cost money he doesn’t have (netting and birth control pellets).

The real culprits here are the people who feed the pigeons. No food for the pigeons, pigeons will leave, no need to remove pigeons.

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