Swallows and Grease: Abuse, Hunting and Extermination Disguised as Deterrence

Dr. Ariel Tsovel, The Human and Animal Institute, swallows@haai.org.il

Rhetoric can disguise severe harm to animals and conceal the harm from animal protectors. An example of this is the presentation of animal abuse, hunting, and extermination as mere deterrence (repellence, exclusion), for example when applying oily and sticky substances on birds' perches. I will illustrate this by describing a case in progress.

In the 2021 breeding season, Ariel Tsovel and Drora Bruck conducted a swallow nesting survey in Yavne, and identified about 350 nesting attempts of swallows from three species. About 1/3 of these attempts have ended with nest destruction by residents, business managers, or hired maintenance workers. Some laws indisputably prohibit the destruction of active nests (with eggs and/or chicks) of swallows, and therefore I will not elaborate on that. A more complex challenge has been the use of lethal measures against barn swallows at their municipal roosting site, in the parking lot of the Rogovin shopping center, Yavne. On 26.4.2021, a "pigeon control" company destroyed 36 nests in the parking lot, and applied a thick layer of grease (or similar substance) onto the perching places of the hundreds of swallows that roost inside the parking lot. Applying greasy and sticky substances onto bird perches is not a method that "pigeon control" companies tend to advertise, but it is in common use. The grease smeared in Yavne parking lot injured at least dozens of swallows: by 10.10.2021, when the grease was removed, 46 injured swallows and 3 laughing doves were found, and this is most likely the tip of an iceberg.

On the face of it, applying grease is neither extermination nor abuse, because it is ostensibly an attempt to deter the swallows without harming them, and as evidence – most of the swallows in the Rogovin shopping center have kept some distance from the grease and have not been harmed. The mall's director and the company he hired can therefore hide the nature of their activity behind a rhetoric of deterrence, as they did in the face of residents' complaints and authority intervention. Nevertheless, a closer look at the case reveals that "deterrence" and similar concepts disguise extermination and abuse.

The term "deterrence" denotes causing a behavioral change in an animal in relation to a particular object or place, without implying what caused that behavioral change. Deterrence may be caused by sound, sight or smell that does not cause any physical harm and does not significantly endanger the animal's well-being, but deterrence can also be achieved in completely different methods. For example, wanton shooting at a population will provoke significant deterrence in survivors. Applying an oily substance against swallows is more like shooting; the deterring power of the substance depends on direct physical contact, and a slight contact of swallows with this substance is sufficient to bring about the bird's slow, agonizing death due to feather damage (less clear is the effect of the substance on the more common target species, the feral pigeon). Birds are supposed to shy away from standing on the substance because of their suffering or because they have witnessed the suffering or death of their friends. The deterring power of oily substances is therefore based on stickiness and lethality, i.e. abuse and hunting/extermination.

Moreover, oily and sticky substances as a means of deterring birds are applied deliberately and precisely onto birds' familiar and habitual perches, and the only motive for applying the substance is the habit of the birds to perch there. Therefore, claims that bird injury is an accident or an accidental side effect are not valid, unlike the validity of some claims about wind turbines, unsecured pylons, etc.

In light of these considerations, the rhetoric of criminals who present their activities as “deterrence” and the like should be rejected. Applying an oily substance against animals should be considered publicly and legally for laying a trap that causes anguish and slow death. Moreover, the public and legal action against “pigeon control” companies that use such substances and against their clients should be the same as action against declared use of traps that cause death in torture.