EMPTY NEST SYNDROME

FINE FEATHERED FRIENDS, BEWARE: FLIGHT STIMULATOR DOUG GILBERT IS ON THE JOB.

On game day at Coors Field, the canned accordion music blaring overhead barely registers with the fans streaming in through the main gates. But Doug Gilbert is fascinated. He stops in his tracks to inspect the speakers.

"Certainly, just as I thought," he says to himself. "Any of the speakers. Any of the TV monitors. Certainly any of the I-beams. Coors Field is full of I-beams. No wonder it's a mecca for pigeons. It could easily support a thousand pigeons. You could almost call it a condo."

But not since Gilbert came on the scene in April, when he took on the task of ridding Coors Field of pigeons. By now the ballpark's bird population is down to a shadow of its former noisy, droppings-happy self. Still, there are spot problems, as well as weekly maintenance, and today Gilbert is prepared to handle both jobs with zeal. But first he returns to his Bird Control, Inc. truck, puts on his Bird Control, Inc. sneakers and straps on his Bird Control, Inc. black canvas bag.

"Anyone who knows me, knows my bag," he says, opening a top flap to reveal two handfuls of corn. "Some of this is treated. Some isn't. Absolutely no difference, is there?"

Unless you're a bird.
"What we have here is a treated corn developed by Phillips Petroleum," Gilbert explains. "It's designed to relocate birds, not kill them. What it does is disorient them. It interrupts their homing instinct, and they can't remember where they came from. People who've seen the corn in action say it makes the pigeons almost drunk. So when they fly away, they stay away--from one to fifty miles away."

Yet Gilbert doesn't throw the treated corn anywhere a fan might see it. "People are not that smart," he says sadly. "They automatically assume the corn's treated with strychnine and the birds will be killed. But I'm in the relocation business, not the extermination business. Jeez, if I wanted to kill birds, I could do it very efficiently, but then I wouldn't have a profession, would I?"

Speeding past the ticket-taking staff, a laminated badge clipped to his knit shirt, Gilbert slips easily through a half-dozen security checkpoints, occasionally scanning the air above him for flapping wings. It is near his feet, though, that he finally finds a clue.

"Your instinct is to look up," he says. "But in the pigeon business, you're better off looking down." Indeed, a small area between a hotdog stand and a microbrew cart--ten feet by ten feet, say--is moderately splattered with pigeon poop. Fans are walking right through it, not realizing the threat to their health and cleanliness.

"You don't want that lying around," Gilbert says, lowering his voice to a whisper. "Actually, when I first came here, it was ten times worse. But right now, it's still a problem. It's coming from up there in Suite One. Let's go."

Gilbert does not wait for an elevator. He takes two flights of stairs at a fast clip, pausing only to enumerate some of the charms of Coors Field's "ultimate muckety-muck level. Look at this private club," he marvels, pointing to the door next to Suite One. "I mean, the buffet line. It's an incredibly dolled-up-like-crazy buffet line. Baron of beef. Of course, you have to pay for it."

He eases into Suite One, fifteen minutes ahead of the thirty fans who have paid to enjoy its amenities. "It's the least desirable of the suites, I'm told," Gilbert says, "although still, not bad. All the popcorn they want, all the peanuts, and whoever rents it gets to take home all kinds of souvenirs."

None of them, however, are supposed to remind fans of close encounters of the bird kind.

As he steps onto the balcony, Gilbert is greeted by the flapping of wings. "Hello, Bobo," he says to the pigeon, which flies a few feet off and then rests on an I-beam, fixing Gilbert with pin-sized pupils. Its nest is strategically located between Suite One and the large, plate-glass window of the dolled-up-like-crazy buffet.

Some day this week, Gilbert will come back with his forty-foot ladder, climb up, grab the bird and return with a live holdout in hand. "I have to do that once a month or so," he says. "Like the time I found two little fledglings roosting right behind home plate. They were just bombing those good seats. I went up the ladder and got them. Some weatherman with a great sense of humor and a bad toupee was out on the field getting ready to broadcast, and he helped me get those little buggers into a plastic bag."

Colorado Rockies fans will not be privy to the upcoming capture. "It's not politically correct," Gilbert says, with a touch of exasperation. "People hate pigeons, but they don't want to see anything traumatic happen to them."

One elevator, one escalator and one fire escape later, Gilbert is standing on the stadium's north roof, setting out two handfuls of treated corn. Three months ago he began his program by leaving the untreated stuff so that the pigeons would come to expect food at this particular spot. Once he had them where he wanted them, Gilbert began giving them the disorienting chemical substitute, which he generally mixes with plain corn in a one-to-ten ratio. After that, he needs to put out feed only once a month or so to keep the birds disoriented. "Except for all this rain," he adds. "To a pigeon, rained-on corn is like a bad steak at a good restaurant. You never go back to that restaurant, right?"

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