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Matt:

While dining on the fine cuisine served up at the Morena Boulevard Costco outdoor dining area, I noticed a distinct lack of bothersome feathered friends. What in the world do they do at Costco that would keep away the sky rats that they can't seem to do at other fine outdoor dining facilities? Is it traps, bait, sound waves, or some other device that so effectively makes this a bird-free zone?

-- Rusty R, San Diego

If Costco had solved the world's sky-rat problem, I'm sure they'd have ripped all the old merchandise off their shelves and stocked them with nothing but big sacks of Costco Pigeon Death. We couldn't figure that even Costco could have outwitted nature, but we made a field trip to check it out. Grandma Alice brought her binoculars and field guide hoping she'd find something exotic. The elves tried to sneak out their air rifles, but we caught them in time. Eventually we wheeled into Asphalt Acres, the Costco compound on Morena Boulevard, ready for wildlife.

We piled out of the car scouting for the usual parking lot suspects -- house sparrows, house finches, a couple of Brewer's blackbirds -- scrappy scavenger types that lurk in almost every suburban environment. And we find... Nothing. Zero. Not even a pigeon. After several hours of field surveys, we concluded that the Morena Boulevard Costco could be the most biologically sterile patch in the county. A vast sheet-metal-and-asphalt oasis in the middle of Rose Canyon. Grandma lost interest and went to have a hearing test and tire rotation and to buy a vat of olives. The elves lined up to order some of those mmmm-mmmm-good all-beef Hebrew National dogs to see if they could attract any winged things. As we sat around munching and pondering, we drew up this list of reasons why there are no pigeons, or much of anything else, at the Morena Boulevard Costco.

First of all, on the roof peak directly above the snack bar area there's one of those big plaster owls, the urban equivalent of a scarecrow. Birds in general are terrified of owls, so the theory is, if you put one of these things on your roof, it will scare them away. The statues work pretty well at first, but occasionally, if a local population of birds catches on that the owl never moves, the effect is lost. Costco's big metal buildings also lack the kind of niches and overhangs that make handy perches or nesting sites.

The store's location in a relatively remote area of Rose Canyon works in its favor too. Sparrows like to hang around suburban houses with good trees for cover; pigeons prefer tall buildings, ledges, telephone lines, any high perch that reminds them of their ancient ancestry as dwellers on rocky cliffs. Not much on the warehouse property or around it to attract an urban bird. And if you look at Costco's menu, you'll also notice that they don't offer much that creates a lot of crumbs. Pigeons and sparrows are basically seed and grain eaters, but bread crumbs or an old french fry will do. Hot dog buns and pizza crusts are about the only potential bird food at Maison Costco. For whatever reason, the patio isn't very crumby. Add to the mix all those people barreling out of the store with huge carts loaded with wholesale quantities of beans and toothpaste and underwear, and the environmental picture is just too unpromising for something like a bird. So Costco doesn't have any high-tech secrets. Just the luck of location, a limited menu, and a big plaster owl. Not much there to interest a pigeon, or the Alices for that matter. We finished our juicy dogs and flew the coop.

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