A deadly sharpshooter armed with a .22-caliber rifle now prowls North Buffalo streets, looking for his prey-- pigeons. The city animal-control squad each weekday has a sharpshooter ready to roust the unwanted birds from their roosts.
Frank Poincelot, the city's head pest-control and wildlife officer, is responsible for handling complaints of other unwanted wildlife, and at this time of year, complaints are mostly about rats and pigeons.
Poincelot has six officers and, if the Common Council approves his request, will soon have two more in training. They take to the road with poisons, traps and, if on pigeon detail, the rifle and ammunition.
"When you get a good day, they could go through 50 or 60 rounds of ammunition," he said. "Right now we're in North Buffalo."
On this day, pigeons are on death row on Crestwood Avenue, where they gather around the roof of a small apartment building, a story higher than the surrounding structures in a neighborhood of one- and two-family homes. Poincelot said a neighbor complained the pigeons use her driveway as a latrine.
"I have to clean it up every day," the homeowner said.
The evidence was visible.
There is more than one view on pigeons. A few years ago, a sudden increase of spiders in downtown office buildings was linked by some to extermination of pigeons.
And many people feed pigeons. At dusk on the West Side, a man with a loaf of bread is sometimes seen throwing crumbs to a circle of surrounding pigeons, or even gulls.
Poincelot's team handles about 2,000 complaints a year. Most are about rats, but there are many other pests.
"The breeding season for skunks will start in the next couple of weeks," said Poincelot. "The males will go around spraying everything, including themselves. The University District has always had them. North and Delaware are starting to pick up."
Woodchucks and bats are captured and released in areas designated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and deer, shot with dart guns, are released except in the time just before and during hunting season. The state does not want animals that may carry trace chemicals entering the food chain.
"Deer start coming in April or May when yearling bucks are thrown out," said Poincelot. "They follow the railroad in. The only ones that don't survive are the ones hit by cars."
Extermination is limited to rodents, pigeons, skunks and raccoons. Last year, the team put down almost 50 sick skunks, found later to be infected with distemper, and three or four rabid raccoons.
"I get injured hawks," said Poincelot. "We heal them or take them to the SPCA. And then I get my bat calls. In the spring they are all waking up."
Occasional farm animals are in the city, including abandoned potbellied pigs that grew large and no longer delight their owners.
"We go on drug raids with police officers when there are dogs or snakes," he said. "Right now I have a huge Burmese python in my office, 30 or 40 pounds and 8 feet long. It eats once every two or three months. We feed it rats."
Poincelot said he will turn the snake over to acquaintances who are in the snake business and are experienced in dealing with them or appropriately releasing them to a natural environment.
The city is only occasionally backlogged on calls complaining about rats, he said, and distribution of the city-owned large-wheeled garbage containers, with hinged covers, is depriving rodents and stray animals of their food supply.
"The new garbage cans make a great difference," he said. "Rats have nothing to eat but rat bait."
Poincelot, who began his city career as a zookeeper, has worked in the animal-control unit for 30 years. At home, he has two pet cats and seven Japanese goldfish.