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Brookline's pigeon man draws complaints

Posted by Tom Coakley  November 16, 2009 09:30 AM

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Edwin Alexandrian has created a stir in Brookline by keeping 80 sick pigeons in his backyard coop.

By Brock Parker Globe Correspondent

In his native country of Iran, Edwin Alexandrian said pigeons are considered as pets.

So about seven years ago, after seeing a number of poisoned pigeons around his Brookline home and passing them along the street, Alexandrian decided to begin trying to catch some of the birds and nurse them back to health.

When he’s successful, Alexanderian said he releases the birds where he finds them. But if a pigeon does not recover completely, Alexanderian keeps it in a coop in his back yard. He now has about 80 pigeons.

"I decided to keep them because I don’t want to put them down,'' he said.

But Alexanderian’s efforts to help the poisoned birds are now getting him in trouble with town officials. He was cited by the town because he never obtained the special permit he needs to keep his shed-sized pigeon coop in his back yard. He’s also been warned by Brookline health officials that he doesn’t have the proper permit to keep the birds.

Health officials say neighbors have complained about vermin in the neighborhood and a flock of pigeons hanging around Alexanderian’s Hammond Street home and defecating on neighboring rooftops.

"There is no other neighborhood that we have this going on,'' said Pat Maloney, Brookline’s chief environmental health inspector.

Tom French, assistant director of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said there is a chance that pigeons being kept in a coop could attract other birds.

"They could be coming to visit [the pigeons in the coup],'' French said. "That is a possibility.''

But if a flock of pigeons are visiting Alexanderian’s coop, French said the birds were probably already in the neighborhood and haven’t traveled a great distance.

Alexanderian, who is president of Brookline’s Town Meeting Member Association, said the pigeons flying around his neighborhood are not his birds. He said he believes the flock is in the neighborhood because rat poison that was set out in the area has led to the deaths of most of the local hawks. Without the hawks, Alexanderian said there are no predators to ward off the pigeons.

Alexandrian said his pigeons are in his coop, and the reason he keeps so many of the birds is because once they’ve been poisoned, many of the pigeons are unable to fly long distances.

"They don’t die right away, it affects their brains,'' Alexanderian said.

French said some poisons used on pigeons do have neurological effects on the birds and are designed to make the birds act strangely and scare off other pigeons. French said the Division of Wildlife and Fisheries issues permits for the poisons to be used in an effort to keep pigeon populations at acceptable levels.

"I’ve never heard of anyone trying to intervene and save these birds," French said.

But unless he can obtain the proper permits from the town, Alexanderian may not be able to rescue poisoned birds much longer.

Brookline’s zoning bylaws require that his pigeon coop be kept at least 100 feet away from neighboring properties, said Polly Selkoe, the town’s assistant director of regulatory planning.

Selkoe said Alexandrian’s property “is not really big enough to meet that” requirement and he will need a special permit. Alexandrian said the building commission has already cited him for the coop, and he’s now trying to obtain the special permit from the zoning board of appeals.

Selkoe said Alexandrian’s hearing is Dec. 17. If he does get a special permit, Alexanderian will still need to get a permit to keep pigeons on his property from the town’s board of health, Maloney said.

While no one else in Brookline currently has a permit to keep pigeons, Maloney said there are a handful of permits that have been issued for animals such as chickens, ducks and potbellied pigs.

Alexanderian said that he will keep fighting to keep the pigeons, but if the town tells he can’t keep them any more, he will release his birds.

"You think they got a problem now," he said. "Wait until I release my sick birds.'

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