Boulder: soiled and seething

SUN JOURNAL

Starlings: Bombarded by swarms of birds and their ample droppings, trailer park resident clash with their liberal and nature-loving city.

September 07, 2002|By Julie Cart | Julie Cart,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BOULDER, Colo. - Each night at 7:45, the birds come back. Four thousand starlings screech, caw and snap their way into a stand of cottonwood trees, landing high above Mapleton Mobile Home Park.

As the birds settle in, there's another sound, reminiscent of the patter of a summer rainstorm. Only it's not rain. It's the steady "plop-plop" of thousands of bird droppings - splattering people, plants and property from eight stories up.

Walkways accumulate an inch and a half of droppings in a day. Car paint corrodes under the near-constant fusillade from the birds. Flowers and vegetable gardens are shredded. No one living under the trees can remember the last summer in which they enjoyed their patios, decks or yards.

In the past, homeowners - many of them elderly - have slapped two-by-fours to roust the birds. They've shot fireworks into the trees. They've honked horns. Not any more.

The city of Boulder, which owns the 128-unit mobile home park, has prohibited residents from disturbing the birds, at the same time it is considering a resolution declaring all of Boulder a bird sanctuary, making it illegal to harm any bird within the city limits.

"This is ridiculous," says Debbie Feustel, who recently moved to the park. "The city talks about a bird sanctuary, but what about us having a sanctuary in our own homes?"

This flock of starlings has returned for the past 10 years to these cottonwoods, nesting for four loud, smelly, disgusting months. It's not the birds that upset the homeowners, it's the stench and the unfathomable volume of the bird droppings that they leave behind. Folks say this is the messiest summer yet.

Mary Baker, a 78-year-old diabetic whose wheelchair ramp has been rendered unusable because of the nightly bombardment, is at her wit's end.

"I'm a prisoner in my own home," she says, wrinkling her nose at the acrid smell wafting in through her open windows. The chicken-coop stench clouds much of the mobile home park, a few narrow streets nestled in a wooded copse just two blocks off Boulder's main drag.

In a town that likes to call itself the People's Republic of Boulder, where scarcely a plant or animal is without some protected designation, the rights of the birds to live freely just about trump the rights of Mapleton's residents to live poop-free.

"This is what makes Boulder the loony, special place that it is: socialism run amok," says Boulderite Jon Caldara, who is the conservative voice on the opinion page of Boulder's Daily Camera. Describing the town's proud liberal leanings, Caldara says the place is run by "do-gooders on caffeine."

Part of the joy of living in Colorado, many say, is having Boulder to mock. The Denver Post calls Boulder "the little town nestled between the mountains and reality." It's also called Berkeley of the Rockies. The phrase "Only in Boulder" is a frequent punch line to what is seen as the Boulder joke.

Boulder has officially mandated that pet owners be referred to as "pet guardians."

The city of 100,000 has signed the Kyoto, Japan, accords to combat global warning; the United States has not done so.

Barrie Hartman, a Boulderite hired by The Denver Post to explain the city to its southern neighbors, recalled a Boulder County sheriff's deputy who responded to an accident in which a car slammed into a tree. "For those of you in Boulder," the deputy wrote in his report, "the tree was already dead."

Only in Boulder.

Indeed, Boulder is loath to harm a tree. That's part of the difficulty in eradicating the starlings from the Mapleton Mobile Home Park. According to John Pollak, Boulder's assistant director of housing, the city has dispatched foresters and agricultural experts to the neighborhood to determine the best way to handle the birds.

"We are certainly not going to kill the birds," Pollak says. "No one is interested in cutting down the trees. We are exploring options for encouraging the birds to move."

Edie DeWeese, Baker's exasperated daughter, has explored her own options.

"I've called exterminators all over the region," she says. "They all say, `Oh, you're in Boulder? We don't work there.' You can't kill anything in Boulder, but my mom's living in a disgusting, unhealthy mess."

The European starlings are unwanted interlopers. The tempestuous birds were brought to this country from Britain in the 18th century. They haven't bothered making friends since then. Simply put, the birds are bullies.

In the park here, the flock's arrival is preceded by the hurried departure of other local birds, who can't abide starlings. Some of the neighborhood's 200 residents say the park's squirrels, deer, foxes and other creatures have been run off by the bossy birds.

Even the bird-loving Audubon Society identifies the Sturnus vulgaris as "messy, quarrelsome, aggressive, and noisy."

The rhythms of the Mapleton neighborhood are now dictated by the comings and goings of the flock. A 5:45 wake-up call rains down from the trees as the birds leave for a day of insect-eating elsewhere.

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