They carry diseases including meningitis and gastro-enteritis and, with the exception of those in the royal parks, are classified as pests. So some would say the pigeon snatcher, who has swiped around 1,000 of the world famous birds from Trafalgar Square, is public spirited and should be applauded.
The culprit, who is white, in his twenties and wears blue overalls and a red baseball cap, has for the past month, up to three times a week, raided the London landmark. On the last two raids, including last Tuesday, he had an accomplice.
Bernie Rayner, a licensed seed seller, watched in astonishment as the man used food to lure the pigeons towards a box on which he was sitting. His escape route was via Charing Cross Tube station. "There are around 4,000 pigeons here," he said. "I reckon a quarter of them have gone in the last few weeks.
"I challenged him and he claimed he was a member of a pigeon racing club in Peckham and they were for competition. But they are too old and out of condition for racing."
Police and officials from the Heritage Department, which is responsible for Trafalgar Square, told the snatcher he could face prosecution under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. He could not be arrested because pinching pigeons is not theft - there are no constraints on their flight paths.
However, the man laughed off the warnings and a Scotland Yard source admitted it was unlikely that legal action could be brought. Roy Riggs, the officer who confronted the pilferer,said: "There is a strong suspicion these pigeons are ending up in pies rather than in races. They are probably being sold to Greek restaurants as they are some sort of delicacy out there."
But the theory of the pie man cometh seems to have little credence. Michael Frangos, owner of Beotys restaurant in Covent Garden, raised doubts. "The Greeks and Cypriots do love pigeons as well as partridges, pheasant and thrushes but they are cooked over charcoal with lemon juice, never put into pies. Few Greek restaurants here would serve pigeon."
Keith Floyd, the television chef, said: "Pigeons are notoriously tough so I would take the trouble and money to order imported pigeons. They need to be plump, well rounded with a smooth skin."
The feathered inhabitants of Trafalgar Square, on the other hand, are plump, but oddly shaped with a rough skin, often covered in their own excrement. If eaten, even when cooked in a sauce with a well glazed crust, they are likely to make people very ill.
Westminster council warns people not to feed them because of the health risks. Three years ago the council tried putting pigeons on the Pill by lacing food with contraceptives.
However, the Heritage Department, which spends pounds 100,000 a year cleaning Trafalgar Square, refused to be drawn on whether the snatcher was doing the site a favour. Spokesman Flavier Higgins said: "They do create a lot of mess but we consider them to be a tourist attraction. It would not be Trafalgar Square without them."
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