Pigeons Covered in Mysterious Sticky Gel

On October 13, a passerby found three pigeons with sticky, matted feathers, struggling to fly and walk in front of a grocery store in the Nob Hill area of San Francisco.

Realizing the birds were in trouble, rescuers brought them, stressed and terrified, to WildCare, where Medical Staff took immediate steps to hydrate, warm and calm them.

The birds were too unstable to attempt cleaning them that day, so we allowed them to rest and gave them supportive care. We attempted to wash them the next day.

Dish soap and water had no effect on the sticky gel coating the pigeons. Photo by Alison Hermance

Sadly, nothing WildCare had available for cleaning the birds had any impact on the sticky substance.

Over the course of the next few days, eight more pigeons came in from the same location. These birds were even more covered with the sticky gel than our first patients. The birds’ clumped feathers stuck to their cage liners, they got covered in birdseed while trying to eat, and their skin was becoming red and irritated from chemicals in the gel.

Medical Staff knew we had to get the sticky gel off the birds, but we still didn’t know how!

To mitigate the effects of the stickiness and allow the birds to move freely, sit comfortably and eat and drink, Medical Staff made the decision to cover the birds in cornmeal to prevent their feathers and limbs from sticking to themselves. Watch this process in the video below. The cornmeal treatment was effective, rendering the birds much more comfortable while we continued to look for a way to clean them.

To help solve the mystery of what, exactly, was on these pigeons, WildCare Medical Staff contacted the property manager of the building where the pigeons were found. In their condition, the birds wouldn’t have been able to go far from where they had been contaminated. The property manager was appalled at the harm done to the birds, and directed us to contact the store manager.

Birdbgone Transparent Bird Gel

Apparently, in answer to customers’ complaints regarding bird feces on the sidewalk, the store had hired a company that specializes in “pigeon abatement.” The photo to the left shows the top of the sign at the grocery store. Note the thick, clear-white ribbons of gooey gel applied across the entirety of the sign. The only good thing about the situation was that the sign was the only place to which the product had been applied, not the entire roof of the building as we had feared.

This is a product called “Birdbgone Transparent Bird Gel” which is advertised as a “bird repellent gel for use against pigeons, starlings and sparrows.” The abatement company had assured the store manager that it was humane and non-toxic and that birds would not be hurt. The theory is that the birds land on the substance, don’t like how it feels on their feet, and fly away.

Sadly, in WildCare’s experience, applications are typically too thick, and birds who land in the gel panic and get it all over themselves in their struggles to escape. Just like glue or sticky traps, gel is also indiscriminate, so when smaller songbirds land on the substance it can be a death sentence for them, as they are too small to break free of the gel.

Doing the right thing

We were surprised and delighted that, once he learned what was happening to the birds, the grocery store manager immediately called the abatement company to remove the gel. It’s hard to remove, but they solved the problem by covering the gel application site with the red tarp you see in the photo to the right.

WildCare will continue to work with the grocery store to help them find ways to deter the pigeons without harming them. In this situation, we would recommend the use of “bird deterrent spikes,” but the placement is important. Pigeons like to perch on the edge of ledges so they can look down. Spikes must be placed along the exact edge of the sign to deter the birds from landing. Three lines of spikes along the top of the sign, with special focus on the edge of the sign, would likely be a full deterrent.

We’re sad to note that the abatement company insists that this is the first time that a situation like this has occurred, and maintains their claims that the product is safe and humane for birds. Needless to say, the use of gels is never safe for wildlife.

Washing the birds

Photo from Isabel, International Bird Rescue (IBR)

Based on past experience, and the extreme level of contamination of the pigeons, we knew that we could not get them clean in our sinks. We reached out to our friends at International Bird Rescue (IBR), the wildlife care center in Fairfield, California that focuses primarily on water birds affected by oil spills. They have specialized heated and pressurized hoses specifically designed for cleaning birds as fast and efficiently as possible.

Thanks to our dedicated Transport Volunteer Team, we were able to drive the pigeons to IBR in small groups to be washed and given time to regain their waterproofing. Some of the birds required two to three baths over the course of a couple weeks.

Once completely clean and waterproof, the birds returned to WildCare for some aviary time to rebuild their endurance.

A happy ending

Despite their ordeal, we’re happy to announce that all of the pigeons survived their ordeal!

Now that they’re clean and healthy, WildCare volunteers are releasing the pigeons back to their home territory in the Nob Hill area this week.

City pigeons face a lot of challenges, and we’re so grateful to all of the people who cared enough to help these poor birds and give them a second chance at life.


Article written by Melanie Piazza and Alison Hermance




This entry was posted in Wildlife Patient Stories by Alison Hermance.

15 Responses to “Pigeons Covered in Mysterious Sticky Gel”

  1. Carrie

    You guys are amazing! Thank you for helping those pigeons!

  2. Barbara DelGiudice

    Thank God you could help these birds! That gel should be outlawed Is there anyway to get it outlawed? I can’t stand the thought of people doing this to innocent birds or other animals.
    Thank you for helping the pigeons!

    • Alison Hermance

      We wish it could be outlawed, and sticky traps and glue traps should also be outlawed. They are all horrific things that kill animals slowly. Even without legal help, however, we can educate people not to use these products. Hopefully they, like the store owners in the pigeon story will listen!

      • Jj

        Sticky traps are horrifying! I completely agree.
        This stuff should be outlawed.
        There is enough chemicals killing the birds, we don’t need more inventions for more cruelty.

        Was the Abatement Company told how hideous the gel is?

    • George

      Please do not use poisons or sticky traps to abate wildlife nuisances. It is horrible to see how these critters wind up dying from such methods.

  3. Wayne Coltrane

    Bird strikes at airports have been mitigated by the use of predators like the Coopers Hawk. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport utilizes a service from a contractor that is very effective and humane. Typically one hawk is released who usually only has to take down one member of the invasive flock for the other birds to get the message the area is not safe for them so they fly away and don’t usually come back. However, if the do come back or another flock takes their place the process can be repeated until they get the message.

  4. KDM

    It is just mind boggling to see this abatement company’s inability to take responsibility for the harm they caused with their product! Thanks to the property and store managers, WC and the folks at IBR for saving these pigeons. All creatures great and small deserve such an incredible response when in need. Great Job!

    • Emily

      Thank you so much for your diligent work in helping these pigeons.

      I’m so heartened to know that there are people who consider city pigeons as worthy as the rarest bird. Beautiful, caring people.

  5. Debi McGregor

    Years ago I found out pigeons mate for life and are more interesting than folks believe. Learn about animals before you start disliking them.

  6. yvonne

    It is so sad what supposedly reputable vendors do, without proper knowledge or training. Also, I feel the we humans need to be a little more forgiving when it comes to impacts from our close proximity to wildlife. Bird poop, mountain lion sightings, coyotes howling, raccoons in my fig tree.at night…….I can handle it!

  7. City girl

    Thank you for caring for the pigeons. Pigeons are beautiful birds and part of the ecosystem. Everything is connected to everyone.

  8. Rebecca

    This is wonderful what you did to help these birds. Practically everything we do has a negative impact on the flora and fauna on our planet. We all need to step up to the plate and be responsible individuals, or we’re going to lose our planet on which we depend for our sustenance. This is how we show our appreciation?

  9. mary spicer

    Dear Wildcare – I have been wanting to research companies in San Francisco and their cruel pigeon abatement techniques. I have noticed there are so many pigeons in the SF area that are without feet or legs. I had thought to myself that I did not see this in other cities and wondered why are all the SF pigeons maimed? Initially I thought it was a disease. Then I had the thought and felt it could be glue traps to harm the birds – can you imagine being stuck in a trap and having to take off your leg to survive? I have been wanting to do more research on it but have not had time to do this. This story strikes me to the core. This is not OK and this type of treatment to animals should be illegal. Who do we talk to to make lawmakers aware of this?

    • Alison Hermance

      Mary, thank you so much for your concern for the birds! Your hypothesis is interesting but, while they are horrible and deadly to birds, sticky traps aren’t the cause of the injuries you see on the city birds in San Francisco. Birds aren’t able to chew off their own legs, and a bird stuck in a sticky trap will instead get covered in the goo and eventually suffocate or die from exposure.
      City pigeons lose toes and feet for many reasons, but the biggest cause is entanglement in string, plastic or hair. These substances wrapped around limbs eventually amputate.
      Thank you again for caring about the birds!

  10. Henrietta Morales

    You are all amazing for the care, dedication & love for our precious wildlife. I’m a proud monthly supporter & I love reading your interesting rescues.


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