Flap over Venice's over-population of birds

Tourists flock to Venice to feed the pigeons.

(CBS News) We're visiting VENICE, a city built on more than 100 islands, and which suffers from a chronic problem - and I'm NOT talking about the water. Seth Doane now with a Bird's Eye View:

Venice is home to Vivaldi . . . masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture . . . and at its center, a spectacle that defies definition.

Feeding - and photographing - thousands upon thousands of pigeons.

One visitor, Olivia, said that of all the things she'd done in Venice, feeding the pigeons ranked at the top.

Tourists flock to the magnificent Piazza San Marco to pose with pigeons.

"If you was not feeding the pigeons - you was not in Venice," said another woman.

Katharine Hepburn marveled at the birds in the 1955 movie "Summertime." Sir Laurence Olivier fed them while touring Europe. And even an 1875 watercolor showed pigeons have seemingly always had a place here.

The odd appeal seems to cut across cultures (and confuse reporters), and the constant eating and eating has caused a population boom.

"Pigeons are disgusting, they're like flying rats, said author John Berendt,

Still, Berendt - who just published a book on blue jays - was inspired to write about pigeons in his novel set in Venice.

"I saw some trappers with a net trapping pigeons and carting them off to kill them," he said.

That was in 1996. Berendt said the city doesn't normally admit taking such drastic measures.

"I went to see the commissioner of animals or whatever his position was - and he was very forthcoming with me - he said, 'Usually we deny that we trap and kill these pigeons. But since you saw it, I can't very well deny it. Yes, we do,'" said Berendt.

"We have 120,000 pigeons who live in Venice - and they are disgusting."

Pigeons outnumber Venetians two to one. The bird droppings corrode the historic architecture and spread disease.

But cracking down on birds has befuddled many city administrators. Pier Francesco Ghetti, the latest to tackle the pigeon problem, recalled a system installed to emit very high pitch sounds that "terrorize" the birds, "We're thinking (about) forced sterilization," he said, "but the easiest thing is to stop feeding (them)."

Today, Venice has banned the sale of feed in the square. But it's hard to stop tourists from sharing their lunch - and easy to find folks still selling feed in plain sight.