Bird Birth Control: Effective, but Underutilized Management Tool

OvoControl, which contains the compound nicarbazin, is an oral contraceptive for birds that has proven to be a safe and effective contraceptive agent for geese. Nevertheless, state and federal agencies have, by and large, aligned to resist its use for the humane control of geese populations.

According to a study published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, OvoControl, when marketed in mid-2000s to non-lethally and humanely control goose populations, was a commercial failure. Despite its benefits over lethal control methods such as hunting, capture and euthanasia, and toxicants (which only temporarily reduce bird populations), and its superiority over exclusion methods such as nets, spikes, and electrical strips (which only move birds to other places), OvoControl was rejected because it didn’t satisfy the “gone today” urgency of complaints by immediately eliminating the “nuisance” birds.

State wildlife agencies also rejected the product largely to appease hunters, who prefer to shoot the geese. Some state legislatures promulgated laws creating byzantine regulations that effectively prevent the use of contraceptive agents in birds or other species—again to protect hunting interests. Similarly, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, once an advocate of contraception for wildlife management, flip-flopped under pressure from hunting interests. Even the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program, which is responsible for most resident goose control, ignored the product despite the fact that it was co-developed by USDA’s own National Wildlife Research Center.

Fortunately, the obstacles preventing OvoControl use in geese are not as relevant to the humane control of pigeon populations since, in nearly all states, pigeons are not hunted. According to a recent article in the Walla Walla Bulletin, OvoControl use in that southeastern Washington city has been an enormous success—substantially reducing the city’s pigeon population at a cost that is less than that incurred for the old-fashioned control strategies of trapping and shooting. By providing OvoControl-laced feed to the pigeons every few weeks, the pigeon population and pigeon complaints have declined.

Perhaps, in time, those resistant to new technologies to manage wildlife will embrace the future instead of stubbornly clinging to the past. Continuing to shoot or capture and euthanize “nuisance” geese or pigeons when a non-lethal tool is available to humanely reduce their populations is, well, for the birds.