Published in the Criterion, November 13, 2103. Finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing, 2014.
Photos by Levi Meyer
No one likes high tuition, no one likes crummy dorms and no one likes classes so large that the professor doesn't even know his or her name. Nobody likes poop. CMU confronts challenges to its operation every day, including smelly gross ones.
A pigeon perches on the top floor of the University Center parking garage on Sunday. Pigeons like this one are responsible for recent befoulment of the UC.
Over the summer, students and staff became aware of something fishy in the University Center, but the culprit was not aquatic.
"We were noticing an increasingly bad smell in the fireplace lounge," University Center director Tina Kleespies said.
The smell got worse with the summer heat and spread to the game room and student life offices. CMU Facilities Services were contacted.
Maintenance is imperative on a college campus. Students maintain their grades, accountants keep everyone in the black, resident assistants maintain drunk kids and CMU Facilities Services maintain the physical campus.
The search for the smell led facilities workers to the roof, where they found the avian culprit. According to Kleespies, pigeons were "covering the clock tower," and "they weren't just nesting up there."
A CMU groundskeeper cleans pigeon excrement from the floor of the UC parking garage.
Birds perched on top of the University Center clock tower were spending a lot of time there. They found a place to perch, nest, poop and die.
"Facilities discovered it was dead birds and their excrement," Director of Student Life Mitch Karstens said.
Facilities ended up contacting an external cleanup company, which donned jumpsuits and masks to descend into the bowels of the clock tower.
"We got in there and removed all their droppings and nests," Director of Facilities Kent Marsh said. The clock tower was eventually sealed to prevent the further accumulation of bird matter.
The birds remained at the University Center, however. Once expelled from the tower, balconies outside the center's conference rooms were found "covered in feathers and lovely droppings," Karstens said.
Measures were taken to expel the birds from their new habitat. Marsh mentioned the use of a sealant containing cayenne pepper, which has some bird-repelling properties.
Birds remain a parking garage regular at the University Center, where speakers that play bird of prey sounds were installed. The recordings feature "common enemies of the pigeon," Marsh said.
Marsh said that any tall, flat surface will attract pigeons, and facilities deals with them all over campus. Facilities worked recently to remove ample bird-matter from underneath the solar panels on the roof of the North Avenue dorms.
As the fight against the sky rats continues, Marsh says that new techniques are being considered. Introducing predator birds like falcons to roost on campus is one option, with the hope that they will scare away or eat pigeons, reducing their numbers.
"The birds were very upset with us," Karstens said.