Quite a few years ago I attended an information day for organic farmers and among the speakers on the day was Mr. Darren Lloyd, a biodynamic farmer from Nyah, Victoria. His talk was incredibly informative in many areas and one small point that he made was about how he used pigeons in his orchard as a form of bird control. In this part of the world birds can be a major problem for fruit growers and can reduce a good crop to almost nothing, if left unchecked. Most farmers use methods such as gas cannons or noise emmiting bird scarers or strong chemicals to keep birds from their fruit. Some may even resort to shooting birds during the fruiting season to save their crop. All of these methods have adverse affects on the environment and the local populations of native birds.
The concept of keeping pigeons in the orchard to scare off other birds was one that struck me as one of those elegant solutions that can be created when permaculture thinking is applied to a problem instead of just following what everyone else does. I will let Mr. Lloyd explain it in his own words;
"Bird control is achieved by using white homing pigeons. Dark fruit eating birds are "scared" off by the homing pigeons territorial flying habits. White homing pigeons are only grain eating birds and scout out looking for grain and seeds during the day, but never venturing much further than one or two km from their nesting loft. It appears that the white colour and the flocking habits of these birds ward off the coloured fruit eating birds. Whether they believe that the pigeons are white hawks remains unknown, however it is a cheap and ecologically viable approach to poisonous chemical sprays, deafening gas canons and nerve affecting noise emitters."
I must bow to Mr. Lloyd's experience in regard to the effectiveness of white pigeons over common geys but I do know that pigeons are a flocking bird and are quite territorial in nature. I have witnessed for myself a small flock of pigeons chasing off much larger birds from their territory as the whole flock chases and harasses the intruders in unison.
A simple pigeon loft can be built in the orchard on poles to give the birds a high roost. This will help decrease some of the problems associated with pigeons such as flea infestation. If the bottom of the loft is made of wire mesh, with nesting boxes and roosting poles on the inside, almost all the manure from the birds inside the loft will fall through the mesh and onto the ground. This can then be collected and used as an organic fertilizer. If room permits, cereal crops could be grown in the orchard between trees to supply the pigeons with food. Pigeons are very low maintenance and as long as they have comfortable nesting boxes and plenty of food and water, a dozen or so breeding pairs can produce a steady stream of offspring, which can be used as fresh meat if you like. All in all, this is quite an elegant solution to what can be a major problem for fruit growers, with a few side benefits thrown in for good measure.
While I was researching this (brief) article, I came across a testimonial from another Victorian farmer who had tried this idea in his home orchard. He stated that before the trial, he and his family would be lucky to get any fruit from their home orchard at all and in the first year with pigeons, about half the fruit crop was saved. It's believed that in time this amount will increase as the fruit-eating birds develop other feeding patterns.