David Sites points to Oak Park Apartments in Lewiston, where he lives, as birds feed on bread he has just thrown down for them. Despite a threat of eviction for feeding the birds, Sites plans to continue feeding the pigeons, as he has done for the past 10 years. Visit sunjournal.com to watch a video of Sites feeding the birds and explaining why he plans to continue. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — The elderly residents of a subsidized apartment building have been told to stop feeding pigeons.

The memo, sent by the building’s management company to about 100 residents this week, implies the city will kill the birds if the feeding continues. One resident said building managers also threatened him with eviction when he complained about the sudden ban.

“I am so bothered by this,” said David Sites, 68. “Here I’ve lived in the city 50 years and I’ve been feeding the birds all my life. I’m not married. I have no children. This is one of the little things I enjoy in life, and they want to take that away from me, too. I don’t think it’s right.” 

The memo was sent by the Barkan Management Company to all residents of the Oak Park Apartments, a subsidized apartment building located at 10 Oak St. The first half of the letter informed residents about an upcoming inspection, while the second half told them — in bold, uppercase letters and underlined — “All residents must stop feeding the pigeons.”

“The city has noted that they have the authority to exterminate the birds but this is not an avenue they want to resort to,” the memo went on to say. “It would be unfortunate for the city to have to take these measures. Please do not just go to another location nearby and feed them. If you would like to continue feeding the birds the City of Lewiston has stated that you MUST go to Kennedy Park to do so.”

Messages left for building management were not returned Friday.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said a city maintenance employee recently spoke to the building manager and asked him to ask the residents not to feed the pigeons around the parking garage located across the street. However, Barrett said feeding pigeons does not violate any city ordinance and bird feeding is not limited to  Kennedy Park.

“While we can control such activity in/around our buildings in an effort to minimize issues, we don’t prohibit feeding pigeons elsewhere, although Code Enforcement can become involved if things get out of hand,” Barrett said in an email. “For example, if pigeons are roosting in large numbers in vacant upper floors of buildings, we could likely order the owner to take steps to address the problem, much as we can require dog owners to clean up their properties if they become unsanitary.”

Barrett said the city employee approached building management because residents were feeding pigeons close to or inside the parking garage.

“We have had issues with pigeons roosting and nesting in the parking garage with the resultant droppings creating a nuisance on vehicles and within the building,” he said. “In addition to the mess and periodic complaints from vehicle owners, there is a potential but small health risk associated with such droppings. Should droppings accumulate significantly, it can reach a point where our maintenance people would be required to wear protective clothing and respirators when cleaning the garage.”

Sites, who has been living in the building for eight years, said residents have been feeding the birds there for more than a decade and have never been told to stop, have never seen a mess and have never encountered any other problems. He said they feed birds four or five times a day, paying out of their own pockets for wild bird food because it’s better for the birds than bread.

He acknowledged that residents use part of the garage to feed the birds in the winter because snowbanks get in the way of their regular feeding spots.

“So we use one little piece of the garage,” he said. “The birds fly in when they see us. They fly back out again when they’re done, the same way they came in. So we don’t know what the problem is.”

He said he has not seen the pigeons defecate on cars, but he has seen humans defecate on the upper level of the garage and leave trash strewn throughout. Sites, a retired certified nursing assistant, said he has taken it upon himself to pick up the trash he finds in the garage every day.

“I go on all the floors. I clean up the papers, the bottles, the junk all over the place. The city doesn’t do this,” he said. “I do it and I’m not the only person. We do it as a community service.”

When Sites protested to building management about the sudden ban, he said, he was told he was making trouble by complaining and could be kicked out of his subsidized apartment if he kept feeding the birds. 

The situation has left him both angry and scared.

“I haven’t lived this long to have people threaten me,” Sites said. “I may have to find another place, but I live on Social Security and I don’t get a lot of money.”

He is also worried for the pigeons and that they either will not get food in the winter or be killed by the city.

“I know that Lewiston is a big bird (city) because we have this huge bird sanctuary on Montello Street,” Sites said. “And I want to know why the city can say, ‘We can kill those birds if we choose to do so.’ I don’t think that’s right.”

Barrett said the city kills pigeons “infrequently and only in extreme cases.”

“It is generally not our intent to actively exterminate pigeons unless their population numbers become large and the nuisance grows,” Barrett said. “The city does have the authority to do so if necessary, but as noted, we would prefer not to.

“Given the pigeon population in the downtown and their ability to rapidly reproduce under supportive conditions, we would simply ask that folks refrain from feeding them. This would apply not only to the area around the Oak Park Garage, but throughout the downtown.”

Sites brought his complaint to Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard this week. Bouchard said he’s spoken with city staff and hopes a resolution can be found.

“I’m not for pigeon extermination necessarily,” he said. “If people want to feed the pigeons, I think we can find the right place for them to do so. I’m not sure in the parking garage is a great place.

“What pigeons leave is not what people want on their automobiles, typically. So encouraging them to roost there or to go there for food probably isn’t the best bet. I think we can work through this at staff level and see if we can come to something that will allow our residents to feed the birds if they would like.”

Sites said it would be all but impossible to move the daily feedings to Kennedy Park, about a half-mile away, since he and many residents are disabled. 

“My legs won’t take it,” he said.

Ultimately, Sites said, he will stop feeding the birds if he must. He, however, hopes the feeding continues.

“I don’t see that I’m breaking any law. Do you see that I’m breaking any law?” he said. “I’m so upset with this situation and I shouldn’t have to be going through this.”

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David Sites feeds a pigeon Friday morning across from Oak Park Apartments in Lewiston, where he lives. Despite a threat of eviction if he continues to feed the birds, Sites plans to continue doing what he has been doing for the past 10 years. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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