Left in the cold: Cooking oil causing pigeons to freeze

Pigeons in St. John’s are falling victim to cooking oil, which is ruining their waterproofing and putting them at risk of freezing.

Justin Nolan

An oiled pigeon sits by the sidewalk in downtown St. John's
Some pigeons are struggling to keep warm this winter due to cooking oil getting into their feathers. The oil give the pigeons a wet a greasy appearance. Justin Nolan/Kicker

People have found pigeons covered in cooking oil in downtown St. John’s, and a wildlife rehabilitator says certain restaurants in the area are to blame. 
Karen Gosse runs The Rock Wildlife Rescue in Torbay. She and her team rescue, rehabilitate and release local wildlife in need. 
Gosse says pigeons, many of which have been found with their feathers soaked in oil, are frequent patients of The Rock Wildlife Rescue. 
She says the source of the problem is cooking oil that some restaurants leave outside in uncovered waste bins or other unsuitable storage. 
She says cooking oil is a hazard to pigeons throughout the year, but during the winter, the oil is often deadly. 
“These pigeons can’t survive when the oil gets into their feathers and compromises the waterproofing,” said Gosse. “It grounds them; they can’t fly; they freeze.” 
Gosse says people might not immediately realize that there is something wrong when passing by an oiled pigeon. She says the telltale signs to look out for are wet-looking feathers, and difficulties with moving and flying. 
When people do take notice of an oiled pigeon, Gosse says her rescue is the place to bring it. She says because pigeons are now seen as domestic animals, the provincial government has “washed their hands of them.” 
“They’re in no man’s land,” said Gosse. “We’re the only people that intervene with pigeons” 

A pigeon that has had its feathers cleaned of oil recuperates in a cage.
The Rock Wildlife Rescue cares for many pigeons at a time, as some of them may take months to recover. Once they have made a full recovery, they are released near a pond — safe from cooking oil. Justin Nolan/Kicker

The Rock Wildlife Rescue has made reports to the city identifying some of the restaurants that are leaving oil uncovered, said Gosse. 
In a statement to Kicker, a city of St. John’s spokesperson confirmed that cooking oil stored in this manner would be in violation of city bylaws. 
The spokesperson also said the city has taken note of the complaints.  
“In instances like this, the city would investigate and determine if the business was in violation,” read the statement. “If any issues are found, the business would be provided an opportunity to resolve the issue.” 
Gosse hopes the city will step in and resolve matters privately. Unfortunately, she says cases of oiled pigeons are still coming in regularly. 
She says the problem is completely avoidable, and it is frustrating that oiled pigeons are taking up space and resources from the rescue that could be going towards other injured wildlife. 
“It’s such an easy fix; cover the oil,” said Gosse.

Looking for a solution

Gosse says while some restaurants may simply not care, others may just be uninformed.

The Rock Wildlife Rescue has plans to carry out an information campaign by handing out pamphlets to restaurants with the goal of educating them on the issue.

As well, Gosse encourages anyone who notices a pigeon that looks oiled to contact The Rock Wildlife Rescue and bring it in. If any waste bins are found uncovered, she says people should notify the restaurant, and send their own complaints to the city when necessary.

“The more people speak up and say something, the more we’ll get done,” said Gosse.

“Hopefully we’ll get to a place soon where we aren’t picking up quite so many.”

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