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Plan to Trap, Transfer Birds May End War Over Droppings

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Finally, after six bitter years, the war over pigeon droppings between a 65-year-old Santa Ana woman and her neighbors may be coming to a close.

The battle over the birds Mary Martin feels obligated to feed has been so fierce, a mediator couldn’t even get Martin to sit down in the same room with her neighbors earlier this year. But now the city has contracted a Chino company--at a cost of $4,500-- to trap the birds and take them away.

Martin said Friday she might just go for it, as long as she is promised that her feathered friends will be treated humanely.

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“I’m glad that the city might foot the bill for a trapper. It would solve my problem of having to buy food. But it wouldn’t solve the birds’ problem if they starve to death,” said Martin .

She says the dispute with her neighbors has been so fierce that they have flattened her tires with an ice pick, threatened to burn her house down and tried to poison the birds with bleach.

They say they have nothing against the woman they dub the “Bird Lady,” but the pigeons have soiled their cars and driveways, damaged their roofs, and even made their children ill.

City officials are guardedly optimistic that the feud may be ending.

“It’s not something the city will initiate without her consent, so that’s what we’re waiting for,” said Robyn Uptegraff, the city’s executive director of planning and building safety. “Obviously it’s an issue of serious concern to the neighborhood and the birds are a serious concern to (Martin). Hopefully we found a way to address the concerns of all the parties involved and reach some conclusion.”

Those concerns date back to 1988, when the city received its first complaint about Martin’s habit of feeding pigeons, and an occasional sea gull, crow and morning dove. The county Health Department has gotten involved at the urging of neighbors, but declined their request to declare the bird feces a health hazard, she said.

Friday afternoon, about 40 birds cooed on Martin’s North Lowell Street lawn and pecked at the grain she buys for $6 a 50-pound sack. At about five bags a week for eight years, Martin, a part-time caretaker for the elderly, said her hobby has been far from cheap.

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But Martin said some of the birds have learned to recognize her car and that she is convinced that the homing pigeons would never go any place else and simply starve if she stopped feeding them.

Martin said Friday she has cautiously accepted the phone number of the Chino trapper who secured a $4,500 city contract last week to do the job, and she said she plans to call him this weekend.

If he can guarantee her that the birds will be placed somewhere where they will be fed, or that they will be put to sleep humanely and not poisoned, Martin says she’ll let him on her property with his nets and roof traps.

News of Martin’s decision to work with the city was welcomed on her street.

While a war over bird droppings may seem funny to some, to Cindy Gutierrez it is as serious as the health of her children.

“Since this little guy was born he’s been nothing but sick with respiratory illnesses,” Gutierrez, 32, said of her 16-month-old son, Andrew. She lives across the street from Martin and said she constantly scrubs bird doo off her children’s toys from the “hundreds” of birds who congregate in the neighborhood. She said she has found Andrew gnawing on bread clumps dropped by the birds in her back yard.

Her daughter, 4-year-old Amanda, had an infected lump removed from her eye last year, and Gutierrez said the doctor suggested she might have caught an infection from bird droppings. Other neighbors say the droppings have left permanent stains on their cars and ruined their roofs.

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“It’s a real major problem. A lot of people laugh about it, but they don’t have to live in the neighborhood,” said Gutierrez, who has been compiling medical literature with her sister linking bird droppings to pneumonia and toxoplasmosis.

Mediator Amy Starr, who works at a mediation center partially funded by the county, was brought in by the city in January to try to resolve the dispute. She said the rancor between the two sides has been nearly unprecedented.

“It would be one of the most challenging mediations I ever had if I could get them in the same room,” Starr said. “I’m going to keep plugging away. I’m just hopping that (Martin), one way or another, is going to end up satisfied.”

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