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EMPTY NEST SYNDROME

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

Although the rain has thrown Gilbert off schedule, the pigeons have taken the bait remarkably well. "Consider the fly-by possibilities," Gilbert explains. "There's this dark roof, where the corn shows up real well. And say a pigeon is out flying around, and suddenly he comes across this big structure, Coors Field, with lots of food lying around. And maybe he's attracted by the dumpsters of LoDo, and the homeless people down by the river may not be any too clean, either. Maybe he sees my little pile of corn, flies down, investigates it and eats it. Wherever he lands, I'll find him. I've been everywhere in this stadium but the locker rooms."

"He's a specialist, all right," agrees Coors Field facilities manager Steven Mikolajczak. "With a structure like this, a pigeon problem is common. At Mile High, we also had skunks, cats, rodents and insect pests. Here at Coors Field, we had a squirrel on the outfield! That can't happen. We have to stay on top of it."

Mikolajczak is satisfied that Gilbert can hold his own against the pigeons. "I call him every time a season-ticket holder gets dropped on, and he comes right out," he says.

But of course--it's all part of the job. When the birds are there, so is Gilbert. "Pigeons do everything by habit, and I just persuade them to change their habits," he says. "I have to think like a bird."

As well as like a person being pestered by a bird. "In our society," he continues, "most people hate pigeons, but they have a problem with pigeon mortality. See how selective we are? They want pigeons to be gone but not dead, and this is because pigeons are not perceived as being bad, bad, bad.

"In fact," he says, warming to his subject, "there are only four things in our society that are bad, bad, bad: cockroaches, rats, spiders and bats. And if you ask me, spiders and bats are misunderstood."

On a typical day, Gilbert puts 200 miles on his Blazer--driving to the Public Service building in Brighton, which lately has been "bombed, just bombed," or out to Greeley to inspect a housing development with its own unwanted flock, or over to Villa Italia, where a pair of sparrows is trapped inside a wall shaft, or down to the Rio Grande building at Eighth and Osage, where pigeons roost in the rafters in the summer, annoying the employees and wrecking the paperwork. "Nuisance birds," he likes to say, "are my specialty. I know a little about a lot of birds, and a lot about pigeons."

This does not mean he won't take on the occasional odd job--a squirrel, muskrat or skunk, for instance. "Skunks, believe it or not, do not like foul odors," he observes. "It helps to put mothballs down their hole."

But this has been a spring of pigeons and more pigeons; the unusually mild winter allowed the birds to hatch four and five times instead of the typical two or three. Today's next job is only a block from Coors Field, and it concerns these precocious birds, already out of the nest, flying around and ruining lunch hours.

"See?" Gilbert says, from five stories up on a gravel roof overlooking a small patch of lawn in a courtyard. "They're supposed to be able to eat lunch down there, but they won't be able to if I don't get our friends here to move along. Come here, Bobo," he tells a pigeon, as he dumps a handful of untreated corn.

Down from the roof and back in Bird Control Central, Gilbert answers a call as he drives to Capitol Hill. "Yes, yes. Tomorrow. Certainly."

It's Joanie Walco, calling about the woodpeckers again.
"Well, my God, it's so horrible," Walco says. "We built this house out of acrylic that looks like stucco, and it's soft, and the woodpeckers are just destroying it."

Not a morning goes by that the woodpeckers' loud attacks on Walco's siding don't remind her of the $40,000 it would cost to apply more durable siding. The birds had been pecking for two summers when Walco's butler finally unearthed the Bird Control phone number. "I'm so glad he did," Walco says. "The others we called want to trap the woodpeckers and kill them. I just wanted them to go elsewhere, and I think that's what they'll do, eventually. These woodpeckers aren't stupid."

To foil the intelligent peckers, Gilbert has been smearing Walco's house with a sticky substance known as 4theBirds Bird Repellent, which adheres to the birds' feathers and discourages them from coming back. "He's taking care of it," Walco says. "I can call him any time. He's very, very fair, and he knows what he's doing."

It's an inherited trait. Gilbert grew up in a family of animal lovers in what was then a rural part of Cherry Hills. His father kept bantam chickens--"I can hypnotize a chicken to this day," Gilbert says--and his mother's pet pig, Heather, was her favorite confidante. Gilbert and his older brother ran wild among the ducks and goats, but they were also on hand when their pets were slaughtered for food. "It was the real world," he recalls. "There was a time when everyone lived that way."

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