Hamburg’s long Path to Pigeon Protection

Taubenschlag, Hamburg, Tauben, Hamburger Hauptbahnhof, Taubenschutz, Taubenschlag am Hamburger Hauptbahnhof (Foto: Leia Kantenwein)

by Leia Kantenwein and Lara Haßlberger

Volunteers had to fight for a long time in order to get the city to take care of the city pigeons, but slowly the issue is also reaching City Hall. At the moment, the former pets are multiplying almost unchecked and this also shows in Hamburg’s cityscape. A concept for pigeon management is supposed to provide a remedy.

We have all been annoyed by city pigeons. The danger of stepping in their droppings at the station is an everyday experience. Constantly, we have to clean up after them and chase them away from restaurants or train stations. But the problem of urban pigeons is man-made; the escaped birds were our pets a few decades ago. After we left them alone in cities, they multiplied rapidly due to the breeding compulsion we bred into them. Actually, they can live for up to 16 years – in the city they will die after only two to three years.

City of Hamburg relies on deterrence

In order to chase them away, so-called deterrence is used. This means that nets, spikes, power cables or other similar objects are placed where the pigeons are not welcome. In the city, the pigeons can hardly find any nutritious food. Feeding on chips, rubbish and cigarettes leads to so-called starvation droppings, which disfigure the cityscape. One solution to this is pigeon coops, where the pigeons have access to species-appropriate grain food and the population can be controlled. The costs for their maintenance are mainly covered by donations, the necessary work is done by volunteers.

The members of the Hamburg Stadttauben e.V. no longer wanted to stand idly by and watch this misery and in 2016 opened a pigeon coop in Hamburg’s main railway station. The pigeon coop is located in rooms provided by Deutsche Bahn – but the association keeps the coop running. Here, the pigeons are fed, receive veterinary care and the size of the population is regulated by replacing the eggs with dummies.

Associations feel let down

The association feels that the support of the Hanseatic City of Hamburg and Deutsche Bahn is insufficient. It is actually the city’s responsibility to ensure compliance with animal protection laws. Regarding the politics in Hamburg, Eileen Jörs from Gandolfs Taubenfreunde says: “It is still very difficult to generate funds for animal welfare.” Eileen Jörs notes that the city of Hamburg lacks a person who cares about animal welfare. Animal protection is generally not done enough in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. The parties in the city parliament have a responsibility and must stop passing it on to private actors and volunteers.

According to a cost breakdown by Gandolfs Taubenfreunde, it costs 8,500 euros to 20,000 euros, depending on the location, to set up a pigeon coop for 200 pigeons and another 9,990 euros a year to maintain it. Using Nuremberg as an example, Gandolf’s Taubenfreunde show that it would be worthwhile to rely on this method. The big city in Franconia would spend an estimated 56.9 million euros per year on scaring away pigeons, while it would only cost 1.4 million euros once and from then on 0.2 million euros per year to set up and run a network of pigeon lofts. There are legal obligations for this.

City pigeons are pets according to a report: federal states have a duty to protect them

A legal report from October 2021 commissioned by the Berlin State Animal Protection Officer Kathrin Herrmann shows that urban pigeons are domestic animals instead of wild animals. This results in certain duties for the Länder. According to the report, these duties of protection can only be fulfilled by professional pigeon management, for example by establishing supervised pigeon coops throughout the country.

In a pigeon coop, the animals can retreat, feed on grain food in a species-appropriate manner and breed in peace in nesting cells. This is where they spend 80 per cent of their time and accordingly leave behind about 80 per cent of their droppings, reports Andrea Scholl from the Hamburg Stadttauben e.V.. The pigeon loft at Hamburg Central Station currently accommodates 150 to 200 pigeons at a time. The reproduction of the pigeons is contained here in accordance with animal welfare. Thanks to this one pigeon loft alone, 800 pigeon chicks did not hatch in 2020. According to the association, however, this is only a drop in the ocean. More funding and more areas for more pigeon lofts are needed to take care of the majority of the pigeons and to reduce the city pigeon population through egg exchange. The associations Stadttauben e.V. and Gandolfs Taubenfreunde have been approaching politicians for years. However, city pigeons are not a “sexy topic”, says Dirk Schattner, 1st chairman of the Hamburg City Pigeons Association.

Why the construction of pigeon coops is a long time coming

According to the animal welfare working group of the Hamburg SPD, the process is progressing slowly. Coordinator Britta Schlage explains that it is difficult to get long-term costs approved, as would be necessary for the operation of pigeon lofts. Measures to scare away pigeons are more easily approved, even if their costs are significantly higher. Another problem is finding suitable locations for pigeon coops.

Lisa Maria Otte, the animal welfare spokesperson for the Green Party in Hamburg, also advocates for a network of pigeon lofts. She emphasises that a well-designed pigeon management for the city would make both sides happy, whether you like pigeons or not. This would make the pigeons feel better and they would be less noticeable in the cityscape. According to Otte, measures such as scaring away pigeons should only be used if they do not harm them. The public feeding ban is only tenable for the Green politician if sufficient grains are provided in pigeon lofts.

The Green Party and the SPD had each approved 35,000 euros for the years 2023 and 2024 in the Hamburg Parliament to advance the protection of pigeons in Hamburg. The spokesperson for consumer protection of the SPD parliamentary group in the Hamburg Parliament, Sarah Timmann, explains that these funds will be used to identify critical focal points in Hamburg and that projects are already being implemented in the first districts. In addition, the office of a pigeon protection officer is to be introduced.

Motions by Left Party and FDP failed due to opposing votes by SPD and the Green Party

Stephan Jersch, spokesperson on animal protection policy for the Left Party in Hamburg, says that the city should be centrally responsible, as the districts do not have the necessary resources. He emphasises that the use of spikes, nets and similar methods to drive away animals should no longer be used, as this only postpones the problem. So far, however, the city has mainly relied on such measures.

Already in 2019, the Left Party as well as the FDP submitted motions for the establishment of pigeon lofts. The motions were rejected by a majority with the votes of the Green Party, SPD and AfD. In 2021 and 2022, the left-wing parliamentary group continued its efforts to finance pigeon lofts and failed because the SPD and the Green Party voted against it.

A motion that would have allowed initiatives and animal welfare associations such as Gandolfs Taubenfreunde or Stadttauben e.V. to attract sick or injured animals with food despite the existing feeding ban was also rejected by SPD and the Green Party. The SPD consumer advocate Sarah Timmann said in justification that an exemption for feeding injured animals would take up too many resources and would also be difficult to implement in the administration for financial reasons.

Glimmer of hope in sight?

In January 2023, the CDU posed a minor question on the subject of pigeon houses. In the Senate’s answer, consistent compliance with the feeding ban was still mentioned as an important measure. However, it also emerges from this that the will to set up pigeon coops in the districts exists among politicians.

The first funds have been approved and Hamburg is taking a step towards a structured approach to city pigeons. It remains to be seen whether these steps will lead to the desired pigeon management or whether, as Eileen Jörs from Gandolf’s Taubenfreunde calls it, it will just be another “patchwork”.