By Troy D. Sides
He wore hiking boots.
His earmuffs never left his head, and when his face got cold he would grab a Kleenex and hold it to his face until it got warm again. He wore a thin pair of gloves to keep his hands from freezing as they pushed his dolly up and down sidewalks. A trash can was tied to this dolly, and inside the trash can were bags of bread and birdseed. These are the only belongings that Edward Gillman uses on a daily basis.
That’s because Gillman, a 61 year-old Grand Junction man, has used all the money he has ever made to buy birdseed, which he spreads all over the city on a daily basis. Gillman is the man who stands on the sidewalk between the Academic Classroom Building and the Maverick Pavilion at around 9 a.m. every morning, feeding a host of pigeons and sparrows that frequent the Mesa State campus. And he’s been feeding these birds, at the same spot, every single day of the year for the last 27 years.
“I don’t know much about the Birdman,” said Substation Police Officer Cindy Cohn, using the term most commonly used around campus to identify Gillman. “I knew about him when I came on with the department six years ago, and I’ve stopped and talked to him a couple times. But I don’t even know his real name. I just know him as Birdman.”
“Birdman” repeats practically the same routine every day. He pushes his cart to a stop at the driveway into the ACB building, along Elm Avenue, and waits. Birds are often shy around the time he arrives, with hordes of students pProxy-Connection: keep-alive
sing by, and he patiently waits, sometimes up to two hours. He sporadically tosses a handful of seed or sandwich bread to the ground, beckoning the birds.
“Back in 1982, I found a sparrow,” he said. “She was injured, and so I took her home and she got well. That’s when I started doing this.”
Prior to 1982, Gillman worked as a truck driver for about 16 years. He was born in San Diego, which is where he met his wife, Carol. The two were married at age 16, and by age 18 two daughters were born to them, but Carol died shortly after giving birth to their second child. Gillman then took his two daughters and eventually moved to Colorado.
“The weather’s much cooler here,” he said, rubbing his leathered hands together. “San Diego was too warm for me.”
Gillman’s two daughters eventually settled in Aspen, but he stayed in Grand Junction to continue feeding the birds. His route stretches from the Mesa State campus to Main Street, hitting side streets and alleys along the way. He walks the entire route, beginning at 6 a.m. and finishing around 8 p.m. He does this seven days a week, all year, with a mailman-like approach of “neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet.” Over 2,Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
0 birds are fed and over 40 pounds of bird seed are used each day.
“I usually use two bags of seed a day, and each bag is five dollars,” he said. “But people just give me donations right on the street.”
People have not always treated Gillman with such charity. Gillman said he used to receive threats regularly.
“They probably didn’t like birds,” he said with a grin.
Recently, though, Gillman has done very well at keeping a low profile. Students rarely seem to even notice him as they walk by on their way to class.
“He doesn’t seem to cause us many problems,” said Cohn. “I haven’t really had any police contacts with him, and the community seems, as far as I know, to just accept him. He pretty much keeps to himself.”
Gillman is, in a way, the personification of isolation. He lives by himself in an apartment in the city, rarely ever sees his two daughters, and has been widowed for 43 years. When he is feeding his birds, no one seems to want to talk to him. But in his isolation he has sprouted a heart of gentleness. He demonstrates great tenderness in his care of the birds. He even keeps medical supplies with him, in case another wounded bird comes along.
“These birds, I know that they communicate with you,” Gillman said. “They don’t speak English, but they communicate, I know they’ve done that a couple times.”
In his quiet, peaceful reserve, Gillman perhaps embodies the gentleness and heart of the rare person who, having seen a problem, spends every day for the rest of his or her life doing something about it.