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EMPTY NEST SYNDROME

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

Tell that to the strip-mall tenants whose roof-mounted air conditioners have been invaded by pigeons. Vents have been pecked off, and nests balance precariously where machinery used to be. The persistent sound of cooing filters down--into the liquor store, the African-fashions outlet, the beauty salon.

Dinner time. Gilbert sets out the treated corn. "Come here, Bobo," he says, and another Bird Control project begins.

"At least there's no manual cleanup on this one," he adds. "If I ever do have to do that, I wear a gas mask and coveralls and gloves. It might happen every six weeks or so."

The last time was at a Thornton strip mall owned by entrepreneur Nick Craft. "There was too many of them," Craft recalls. "Pooping, hanging around, making noise, ruining the roof, getting into the air conditioners. Plus, they made hundreds of nests in the gutters, and the tenants got sick of hearing them coo. I got Doug through the Yellow Pages, and he's doing what he can, but sometimes I think the pigeons are winning."

So do his more militant tenants, in particular Dick "You're not gonna use my last name," owner of the Northland Gun Shop. "They make a damn mess, and they're a dirty goddamn bird. And," he adds tersely, "it is not legal to shoot a bird in the city of Thornton."

Instead, Gilbert carries on with treated corn. Three disorienting deposits later, he stows the ladder and re-enters his scrupulously locked vehicle. "I carry some hazardous substances in this truck," he explains. "What if a civilian would get on board, or a child? Whew."

Then again, he says, as he begins a fifty-mile jaunt to investigate an obnoxious starling, treated corn only kills if it's mixed incorrectly. "People ask me, what if a songbird or a wildbird eats the corn? Well, you need to know how a bird feeds. A robin is carnivorous, so no problem. Ducks and geese feed on the ground, and I never put the corn on the ground. Other wild birds can't swallow a whole kernel of corn. A crow or a raven, with their body mass, would only be slightly affected. How 'bout a squirrel? It won't affect a squirrel. And it would take five pounds of uncut treated corn to kill a beagle. How are you gonna get a beagle to eat five pounds of corn?"

This eternal question segues into others, including: How do you rescue flightless baby mallards from an overchlorinated swimming pool? What do you feed orphaned rabbits? And why do people find magpies so annoying?

"Droppings, I guess," Gilbert theorizes. "Loud chirping at night. Trash eating. Pet pestering. But personally, I admire the magpie. They're smart and entertaining. So are crows. So are starlings."

This observation does not mollify the woman who owns the nearly new house in the upwardly mobile Castle Rock development where Gilbert has just parked his car.

"They moved into my eaves, and they won't leave," she tells him. "They're noisy and obnoxious. One of them hit a guest at my last party, and the guest happened to be my mom."

Gilbert stands beside her on the back patio, looking up. "How long do you guess you've heard the little ones?" he asks.

"A couple of weeks. They're right next to the bathroom. In the morning, they get all agitated and pissed off."

Gilbert decides on the 22-foot ladder and bird repellent, but, he adds, "we'll wait till the babies can fly. A week or so. Until then," he cautions, "don't be surprised if they dive-bomb you."

"Okay," the woman says, "I just don't want them to poop on me."
"In that case," Gilbert fires back, "I can sell you a special hat."
On the way home from Castle Rock, Gilbert pulls off the road, snatches his binoculars from the back seat and settles against his truck to watch a scene of aerial interest no other motorist has noticed. A hawk has flown too close to a sparrow's nest, and now the sparrow is chasing the hawk, trying to intimidate it. "Ha, look at this," Gilbert says. "The sparrow is being so tough, and of course the hawk is saying, what's this, a mosquito?

"Never underestimate what a bird might do. Jeez, it was a woodpecker that delayed the launch of the space shuttle Discovery. Or, to be more accurate, a yellow-tailed flicker."

Three days later, Doug Gilbert's passenger seat is semi-permanently occupied by a baby blue jay that needs to be hand-fed every 45 minutes.

"I mix up some of that Gerber baby cereal with milk, and he opens his beak and eats it right off the spoon," Gilbert says proudly. "He's sleeping through the night now, too. I might keep this little bugger till his tailfeathers come in. A week or so."

"My 95-pound golden retriever puppy found him," says Cynthia Schwartz of the blue jay, which came from her back yard. "There were three at first, and I thought they were all dead, but then this one fell four feet into a window well. I'm not a nature freak, but I decided this bird needed a fresh start. The thing is, I didn't know who to call."

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