Pigeons in St. Mark's Square, Venice – Ruffled Feathers
On your next visit to St. Mark’s Square, if you see a sign that reads something like “È vietato per alimentare i pigeons”, or if you get tapped on the shoulder by a polizia turistica, be aware that the city of Venice has banned the feeding of pigeons. Municipal officials tried banning bird feeding some time back, but St. Mark’s Square escaped the ban due to the iconic status of the pigeons and the seed sellers. This time around, they have not been so lucky and in spite of petitions, it appears that the ban has gone ahead.
The ban has of course ruffled the feathers of the vendors. They make a living out of selling seeds to tourists who love having the pigeons to make their holiday snaps more interesting. The 19 vendors who are licensed to sell birdseed in the square are crying foul as this practically puts them out of a job. They claim that feeding pigeons in the Square is a century-old tradition and that children are crying because they can’t feed the birds.
Well, as you can see, we too took our share of pigeon snaps, but the city is right in taking steps to ensure that St. Mark’s does not turn out to be a pigeon infested Square and that these birds do not ultimately ruin the historic buildings in the Square, including the delicate mosaics on the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica. Most of us have seen the mess from pigeon droppings but apart from this, they apparently peck on marble and stucco to try and extract calcium carbonate for their eggs. Tourist numbers to Venice have now reached 20 million a year and if the city does not do something about the ever increasing number of tourists feeding birds and discouraging the birds from settling permanently on the square, then the future of St. Mark’s is very much at stake.
Then there’s the potential hazards the birds pose to human health. Tests by the Venetian health authorities on the birds have also concluded that many carry one pathogen or another and yet how often have we seen young children playing amongst them and then perhaps handling food without first washing their hands.
City officials are now negotiating with the vendors to offer them alternative jobs or provide a cash buyout for their licence. Frankly, these vendors don’t really care about children crying and if you didn’t buy their seeds they’re not interested at all in letting you take a snap of their stall either.
It’s always nice to see some birds in the city, but the pigeon population in St. Mark’s Square is almost at epidemic level.