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Squawking bloody murder

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Passersby may notice some strange noises coming from the east side of Washington-Grizzly Stadium at the University of Montana, but Chuck Maes says not to worry. The associate athletic director for internal operations explains that the sounds of dying pigeons and hungry raptors are not broadcasting some “National Geographic” drama, but rather come from two speakers installed at the end of April.

“We’re working on non-lethal methods to rid ourselves of the pigeon infestation in the stadium,” Maes says. “It’s a real health concern. And it’s really bad on the facilities to boot.”

Hundreds of pigeons nest among the stadium’s rafters and columns during the warmer months, and their urine and feces litter the walkways, concessions areas and seating. Maes says student workers must soak the white excretion in bleach and then scoop it weekly to keep up with the birds.

Since the stadium’s construction in 1986, Maes says the pigeons have always been a nuisance, but in recent years their numbers have grown.

“There’s so much space out there now, between the north and the east side, that we just can’t keep up with them,” Maes says. “And once a pigeon nests, and those babies they give birth to hatch, they’re just growing exponentially.”

Richard Hutto, former director of UM’s Avian Science Center, says pigeons are difficult to deal with because they do whatever they want despite the presence of stressors—including the new speakers. Hutto believes the pigeons have become accustomed to the noise and don’t perceive it as a threat.

Maes says the department has moved to phase two of its experiment. On June 9, three artificial great horned owls were installed to accompany the speakers on the stadium’s east side. The owls, created by Bird-X, are meant to scare the pigeons from flying in the area.

“We are just kind of attacking the east side because it is the least inhabited right now,” says Maes, who estimates the costs so far at $1,000. “The guy who put (the owls) up said he wasn’t noticing a lot of scared animals.”

Maes says they will test the effectiveness of the owls for several weeks before netting all sides of the stadium, which will cost another $2,000. If that proves ineffective, UM will have to install spikes on all the columns, adding several thousand more dollars to the budget.

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