The pigeons were everywhere, especially in the rafters. Their messy droppings landed on tables, on chairs and on the floor.
A pest control company offered to remove the pigeons from The Hut on John's Pass Boardwalk, but the manager of the open-air restaurant wasn't ready to pay the $1,500 fee.
Todd Broaderick said pigeons have been a problem in the open-air restaurant for quite some time. But one day pigeon poop fell on a diner's plate. That was it.
"When that happened, we decided to go ahead and do it faster," said Broaderick, 35, who manages The Hut and adjoining Sculley's Boardwalk Grille.
The pest control company, Rentokil, got a permit from the state, but neither merchants nor city officials were told of the job.
Two weeks ago, the company began baiting the pigeons with kernels of corn for 10 days. On the 11th day, a technician mixed a poison called Avitrol with the kernels.
"Some will die and the others will get scared off," said Robert Armstrong, a manager of Rentokil's Tampa branch. "In essence, we create a flock reduction."
But merchants say a couple of the poisoned birds ended up gasping for life on the boardwalk in front of tourists. "It was a horrible thing to witness," said Tommy Portelli, who owns Sugar Daddy's, an ice cream shop.
Portelli, 48, said that early Tuesday morning, the day Rentokil dropped its drug, he saw a couple of distressed pigeons in front of his business foaming at the mouth and flipping over numerous times. Both birds died.
Lynn Gibeault was so upset about the pigeon deaths that later that day she told the City Commission about the poisonings. "There are other methods (to get rid of the pigeons) that are humane," said Gibeault, 36, who owns Tom 'n Jerry's Boardwalk Grill.
Nonpoisonous methods include installing spikes, nets and wires on ledges, roof peaks and sills. Another ploy is noisemakers.
Later at the meeting, Todd's father, Art Broaderick, who owns Sculley's and The Hut, spoke to the commissioners. He said he hired a company to remove some of the pigeons from the restaurants' premises. He told the commissioners he didn't know what process the company used to get rid of the pigeons.
"They've become quite a problem for us and many people not only here locally but around the country," said Broaderick, 58.
The Hut is not alone in dealing with pigeons. From beachfront condominiums in Madeira Beach to public parks in New York City, the birds aren't exactly feathered friends. But how best to remove them?
New York City used a hawk to handle a pigeon overpopulation in Bryant Park. The hawk didn't eat the pigeons but scared them away. In St. Louis, the city spent $8,000 on netting to keep the pigeons at bay at its courthouse. And in Ashland, Minn., the city leaders paid a pest control company to trap and kill as many pigeons as $1,000 would buy.
The pigeon is a domestic fowl. It is not native to the United States and therefore is not protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, said Alex Kropp, an assistant regional nongame biologist with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In Florida, it's legal to dispense Avitrol, the poison used to relocate pigeons, as long as the company has a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
However, a Madeira Beach ordinance says it is unlawful to "molest in any manner any bird." If the city manager deems birds congregating in a particular location are a nuisance or a health hazard, the city must meet with representatives from the Audubon Society or other environmental groups to figure out how to deal with the problem. If no "satisfactory remedy" is found, the birds may be destroyed with the city manager's approval.
That process wasn't followed when Rentokil did its job at The Hut. Nor was it followed when Madeira Towers, where Mayor Tom DeCesare lives, hired an exterminator to help with its pigeon problem.
"They were really bad," DeCesare said Tuesday. "They were coming onto our balconies and doing God knows what."
City Manager Jim Madden said the city is investigating the pigeon poisonings at The Hut. "Ignorance is no excuse for not obeying the law," he said Friday.
When asked about the mayor's condominium complex, Madden said he would ask the building's management company what it did with the pigeons.
Greg Baumann, director of technical services for the Dunn Loring, Va.,-based National Pest Management Association, said Avitrol is frequently used in places where pigeons are a problem. And they are more than pests, he said.
"There are many diseases tied to pigeons," he said, adding that the birds can spread histoplasmosis, a lung disease. "Some people call them flying rats because they are that filthy."
There is one simple way to stop the birds from coming around, Baumann said. "Don't feed them."
Patricia Hubbard, treasurer of the John's Pass Merchants Association, said she and most of the other merchants on the boardwalk don't have a problem with the birds.
"It's just a part of where we are and what we do," she said.
_ Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.