Last September, in an industrial corner of Sand City, Seaside resident Rob Perkins went to check on a woodworking shop owned by some friends who were out of town. When he got there, he saw a man flinging pellets across the storefront.
“I pull up in my car and there’s some guy just dumping stuff,” Perkins recalls. “He’s got blue-greenish stuff in his hands, and it was dumped all over the front of the property.”
Perkins says the man, whom he recognized, was loading rat bait, which he surmised was intended to poison the large number of pigeons that often fed there. According to Perkins, the man tried to initiate small talk, and then left the scene when Perkins persisted in asking what he was doing. Perkins then dialed the Sand City police.
According to the police report, officers questioned Sand City resident Brian Clark about the incident. Although Clark repeatedly denied the allegation he was poisoning the pigeons, Perkins positively identified him when officers insisted Clark return to the scene near Monterey Cabinet & Woodworking.
The police forwarded the case to the District Attorney’s office, but no charges were filed. Reached by phone, Clark told the Weekly he didn’t know anything about the incident.
The shop co-owner, who declined to give her name, admits she sprinkled seeds outside for the birds.
“They’re neat,” she explains. “They have their own characters. It’s almost like having a pet.”
Feeding pigeons is a misdemeanor, and apparently not everyone appreciates attracting the birds. But cruelty to animals is illegal, too. The report states that police monitored Clark as he recovered the rat poison; the next morning, officers returned to bag four dead pigeons. According to the report, their corpses were still warm.
When Perkins witnessed the alleged pigeon poisoning, it wasn’t just the little birds he was worried about. “Whoever feeds on them is going to get sick,” he says.
Some in the local bird-watching community speculate the pigeons may not have been the only casualties.
Every year in early fall, two peregrine falcons perch on the “Embassy Suites” letters identifying the Seaside hotel. Although the species has recovered well from a DDT-induced near-decimation in the 1960s and ’70s, the falcons, considered one of conservation’s success stories, are monitored closely by local birders.
But according to Monterey Birds author Don Roberson, the Embassy pair went missing last fall.
“These two came every year like clockwork,” he says. “They’ve used the sign regularly for 10 to 15 years, and now I haven’t seen them.”
Chris Hartzell, Vice President of the Monterey Audubon Society, posted an entry on the American Birding Association’s BirdingNews blog, suggesting the pigeon poisoning and peregrine disappearance might be connected.
“A neighbor saw a [hawk or falcon] eating at the site [of the poisoning],” Hartzell writes by email. “A third-hand report then said a hotel had found a dead peregrine on their roof.”
Roberson confirms pigeons are a main food source for local peregrines. “All the major cities have pigeons,” he says, “and the peregrines have learned that they can feast on them.”
This time, rat bait may have been an unexpected additive to the food chain.