02/26/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
With a sack of pigeon feed on his shoulder, Bernie Rayner trudges mournfully around London's Trafalgar Square. "Bye-bye," he says to the dive-bombing birds. "Last time you'll see me."
For six years Rayner, 45, has been, next to Lord Nelson, the most prominent figure in the square, selling cups of grain for 30 pence (45 cents) to tourists enjoying one of the largest flocks of wild pigeons in the world, estimated at 5,000. But not everyone, it seems, loves a pigeon.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone, for one, calls them "rats with wings." To cut down on the number of birds—and their excretions, which cost $145,000 a year to remove from fountains and statues—Livingstone decided to choke off their principal food source, Rayner's stall, by refusing to renew his license.
Despite court challenges by Rayner, whose family has sold pigeon feed in the square since 1948, and protests from pigeon proponents, who maintain the birds will starve, Livingstone prevailed. On Feb. 7 Rayner closed up shop.
Tourists will still come to Trafalgar Square to sit on benches and feed the birds, but they will have to bring the food with them. As for Rayner and his wife, Paula, 40, they will spend more time in their country place. Although maybe, he says, with a twinkle in his eye, "we'll go to Venice and see if there's a job for us in St. Mark's Square."