Where’s a study when we need one? Manitou says pigeon population down
It may never be known for sure if pigeons roosting near Fountain Creek in Manitou Springs caused that waterway's E. Coli levels to exceed federal standards in a three-year study that
concluded a year and a half ago.
The $444,000 investigation, led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), did not state conclusively that pigeons were to blame - only that a great number of them had often been seen roosting near the creek and no other pollution sources, human or animal, could be identified.
But Rick Ruggles, the Manitou Springs stormwater manager who first suggested the pigeon possibility to the USGS (in March '09), said in a recent interview that he believes several measures taken since then have noticeably reduced their numbers.
The pigeons' favorite areas used to include the Manitou Arcade - which drains into Fountain Creek - and other places along the creek itself.
Remedial steps that have been taken since the study include bird repellent, which Ruggles described as being like glue that “sticks to the bird's feet, causing them to find elsewhere to roost.” At the Arcade pavilion building, contractors have installed wire screens in the areas where the pigeons used to roost in the rafters.
“These measures seem to have decreased the populations in the downtown area,” Ruggles states in an e-mail. “Although no sampling has occurred since I last took samples in 2009, I feel assured that the steps we took certainly helped to reduce the E. Coli levels in Fountain Creek.”
Another plus, Ruggles believes, is the Spa building being restored, with tenants again. When it was condemned in the early 2000s (till it reopened in 2007), he thinks that had attracted pigeons to roost there, and their droppings would drain right into the creek.
The Arcade screen work Ruggles described was contracted by the Royal Tavern, which is next to the Manitou Arcade and fronts onto Manitou Avenue. The screening is along the cross beams that were once popular roosting sites.
Don Moses, who has owned the Royal for 25 years, agreed with Ruggles that the birds' numbers are lower and have been since last spring, after the Royal's work was finished. “Now they don't have a place to land. We've pretty much tightened everything up,” he said. Before, the pigeon problem was “year-round,” Moses said.
Alan Kerns, the long-time Arcade owner, scornfully calls the pigeons “flying rats,” although he offers them the backhanded compliment of being “resourceful and hard to get rid of.”
Unlike Ruggles and Moses, Kerns is not yet convinced that the pigeons are staying away in large numbers. “We continually clean up after them,” he said, although he does concede that they're “not quite as much of a problem.”
If there is any improvement, he expressed doubt that it's due to the safeguards put in by the city and/or the tavern. Kerns suggests the main reason for the lowered population might be that “the crows and ravens have been helping.”
Moses' main inspiration for taking action was the unpleasant experiences of existing or possible customers. “It's bad when people sit in the patio and the birds [poop] on them,” Moses said.
In all, he estimated that he spent about $3,000 on remedial work. Early efforts did not go well. The first try was a device that emitted a high-pitched sound, which supposedly would discourage pigeons. “It didn't work.” He also tried sticky glue, which was successful for a while. “But then it wore out, so we decided to screen it in,” Moses said. His first try at that blew away. “So I paid more to rescreen it with heavier mesh,” he said.
The 2007-09 E. Coli study was a combined effort by USGS (paying $190,000 of the total cost), Colorado Springs Utilities ($134,000), Colorado Health Department ($100,000) and the City of Colorado Springs ($20,000). It was triggered by preliminary findings that had showed Fountain Creek in violation of the federal Clean Water Act for E. Coli, which is a a scientific term for waste material from humans or animals.
Not long before that, the federal government had made the water quality rules for fecal coliform more stringent.
After the last public meeting for the 2007-09 study (in September 2009), Rich Muzzy, environmental planning manager for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments who had helped with the sampling, called the creek a “high priority” and said he expected future studies to follow. So far, however, none has.
Westside Pioneer article