This Pigeon’s Come Home to Roost

This Pigeon’s Come Home to Roost

When an avian invader shows up, it’s man vs. nature vs. management company


Originally published on on January 2010

Like most foreigners, I find some (OK, many) things in Japan to be completely baffling. I readily admit that this is because I’m not used to how things work here. Example: dealing with apartment management.

Since sometime before I moved in to my new apartment last year, a family of pigeons had been calling the air conditioner units on my balcony “home.” I would chase them away but they kept coming back, so I called management to complain. When the landlord finally sent a guy over four days later, he saw what I had overlooked: a baby in the nest.

(Incidentally, every Japanese person I told this to thinks it is hysterical. I’m talking minutes of laughter, not just “ha-ha, that sucks.”)

Suddenly, my battles with the freakishly large (and, in retrospect, likely female) pigeon seemed to make sense. Before I got management involved, she and I had engaged in a pretty regular game of chicken (a decidedly less troublesome fowl). She would be perched on the balcony railing, cooing, dropping bombs, and acting pigeon-like. I would slide open the balcony door and yell some threats—in Japanese, of course, so she would know I was serious.

All this would send her packing for a few days, but she eventually realized that my threats were hollow. So I switched to a menacingly brandished coat hanger, which again was effective only until her fear vanished. Luckily for the pigeon, the day that I was trying to decide between using M&M’s as projectiles and lighting the coat hanger on fire was the day the management representative showed up.

The management guy seemed at a complete loss of what to do. He said he would come back with some “anti-pigeon spray,” and that should take care of the problem. Right. Is this “anti-pigeon spray” made by ACME by any chance? If it didn’t work against the Road Runner, it had no chance against these fierce specimens. Maybe installing a scarecrow would put them on the run.
A week later, the pigeon spray proved to be (gasp!) ineffective, and after another few calls to management I received the following email, verbatim:

Dear Joshua-san,
How are you doing? This is _____ from _____ management.  Last time, we have checked your balcony but we found that there is nest with young bird. Could you wait until they can fly away?
Best Regards,

Illustration by eparama tuibenau

Illustration by eparama tuibenau

I said “Are you kidding me?” so loud I nearly snapped a capillary in my eyeball. “Wait until they fly away,” as if this is just their vacation home and they will soon be returning to their pigeon mansion in the local park?

While management was taking their sweet time deciding what to do, the daily 5am cooing was really taking its toll on me. So I went guerilla. Armed with the aforementioned coat hanger (unlit), a broom, and plenty of frustration, I poked the nest a few times in the hopes that the scared chick would fly away. Post flyaway, I would triumphantly burn the nest as the angry pigeons looked on from the roof of the neighboring building, ruing the day they ever alit on my balcony. But I was soon forced to change my plan, for when the frightened chick emerged from under the air conditioning unit, the helpless look in its eye diverted my hatred back to the truly responsible party: the management company.

In New York, this whole situation would have been resolved in a day or two. What was I doing wrong in my dealings with management? After a few weeks of going back and forth, my new strategy—approved by a friend who worked in customer complaints for a large cellphone provider—was to call every day, scream at whomever picked up the phone, swear in English, and generally make them think I’m insane. If that didn’t work I would have to throw a fit in their office. I hate being that person (Naomi Campbell), but unfortunately in Japan, that’s how to get things done.