Animal rights activists are blaming dead pigeons in the French Quarter on the use by the French Market Corp. early last month of a poison designed to control bird populations.

However, it’s not clear to what extent the agency’s decision to place poison in one feeder led to the reported deaths.

The poison was an attempt to curb the pigeon population near the market. City officials said the step was needed to control birds that they described as not just a nuisance but also a public health hazard.

“The French Market Corp. was taking proactive steps to control pigeon populations,” city spokesman Brad Howard said. “Pigeons can be a public health threat and are prone to carry disease.”

Roughly 3,000 people signed an online petition calling for the city to stop killing the pigeons after video of one bird that activists said had been poisoned was posted online, though that petition came after the city had already discontinued the effort.

The city experimented once, on April 6, with using a “bait feeder” loaded with Avitrol, a poison frequently used to kill or scare off birds. The poison is promoted as a “frightening agent” that convinces other birds to leave an area after one ingests some of the bait and has erratic behavior or convulsions.

The Humane Society of the United States has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to prohibit the sale of Avitrol or increase restrictions on its use, citing the “cruel death it inflicts on target birds and other animals.”

The organization also disputes the effectiveness of the poison in scaring away flocks of birds, arguing that they often return quickly.

“The New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board has since advised the French Market to explore other nonchemical solutions to control pigeon populations, and the French Market has since removed the bait feeders,” Howard said.

The bait feeder at the French Market was loaded with poisoned food only once and was removed on May 15. All the bait in the feeder was gone when it was removed, Howard said.

City officials did not respond to questions about why Avitrol specifically was used or what prompted the pest control board to stop the program.

It’s not uncommon for residents in the French Quarter to use a variety of methods to discourage the presence of pigeons, including the use of bait feeders — some of which are located near the French Market site and potentially could have been the source of the poison.

The use of spikes and other obstacles to prevent pigeons from landing on specific buildings or areas is also common.

The experiment with poison came after the French Market Corp. tried other ways of reducing the pigeon population in the area.

“Over the past few years, the (agency) has taken a number of steps to improve the market experience and to reduce nuisance pests like pigeons by improving garbage removal and reducing food sources utilized by pests,” Howard said. “Visitors are encouraged to refrain from feeding pigeons and to properly dispose of any garbage.”

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.