Jan 17 2010


Published by at 12:46 pm under Musings & News

Hazard Symbol, poison warning (image from Wikipedia, in the public domain)Some time in the next two weeks the people of State College, Pennsylvania will wake to find dead birds dropping from the sky.

If all goes as planned there will be 15,000 dead starlings on rooftops, in gutters, on patios, in gardens, on parking lots, playsets and fields. 

No amount of advanced warning can prepare people for how appalling this will be but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying anyway.  Last week the Centre Daily Times and WJAC-TV announced that USDA has permission to poison the large flock of European starlings near University Park airport because they might pose an aviation hazard. 

Really?  Well, they caused a plane to return to the airport three years ago.  That incident did not result in a mass poisoning but last year's crash-landing on the Hudson River has the FAA focused on bird strikes.  For them, poison is appealing because it looks like the problem is solved when thousands of birds die.  Unfortunately it's not an effective long term solution compared to non-lethal methods.

But aren't there laws protecting birds?  Yes, but not always.  European starlings are not protected because they are non-native and listed as a nuisance species.  USDA is even allowed to poison protected species if farmers claim the birds are damaging their crops.  

So will the poison be dangerous to people and pets?  It depends on who you ask.  USDA uses DRC-1339 which they say only kills starlings (or blackbirds or crows or whatever bird they happen to be targeting) but if that were the case how do you explain these warnings on the label and these rules for handling it?

  • Those who mix it with bait must wear respirators if they are dealing with a pound or more of it.
  • Bait must be carefully placed and removed to insure non-target species are not exposed.
  • Treated baits cannot be placed within 50 feet of water.  
  • It is prohibited to graze animals or grow crops on treated areas for 365 days.

The USDA will be as careful as possible, but the fact is that they'll be putting DRC-1339 into thousands of portable poison containers (birds) who will fly around the surrounding area for a short time and deposit it by dying in unknown and unpredictable places.  It is impossible to fully control the process. 

Whenever they conduct one of these operations people are appalled and outraged and when they make their outrage known USDA is not asked back again for a very long time.  State College is about to go through this.  Stay tuned for the results. 

OK, I'll climb down from my soapbox now.  Just don't say you haven't been warned.

(image from Wikipedia, in the public domain, color altered)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Warning”

  1. Kristenon 17 Jan 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Ok, I’m officially horrified. Who do I write/call/email?!

  2. Kate St. Johnon 17 Jan 2010 at 8:47 pm

    For starters I suggest sending a letter to the Editor of the Centre Daily Times at http://www.centredaily.com/145/story/20332.html
    Refer to their story – there’s a link above.
    Also contact the officials of the University Park Airport, listed here:

    There may be more people to contact. I just don’t know who … yet.

  3. Terrion 17 Jan 2010 at 11:55 pm

    This is TERRIBLE!

  4. Terrion 18 Jan 2010 at 12:29 am

    I wrote to the folks on that page. It might be out of their hands, but if they’re the ones who are working with the USDA on this, maybe they can request another method, like the falconry technique, or at least ask for a delay while they try other methods first. This just makes no sense to me at all. Why not do what is most humane AND effective?

  5. Kathyon 18 Jan 2010 at 9:40 am

    You know, I’m almost 64, and I don’t know if this really happened or not, but I seem to remember the police in Rochester NY, in the very early 50’s, shooting the starlings and then we kids would go an pick up the shell casings the next morning. I tried to google it and see if this was so, but didn’t come up with anything. I can’t imagine “dreaming” such a thing though. Perhaps someone knows if this was the case.

  6. Terrion 18 Jan 2010 at 2:34 pm

    If you write to the people at the airport, you’ll get a stock response in which they use an event that happened in *1960* as part of their justification for this poisoning. You’ll also get a song and dance about how the poison is safe. Oh, please. They don’t even address any suggestions for alternate methods, so you know it’s a form letter handed to them by the USDA. They’ll try to claim that all the birds will die at the roosting site. Really? The birds are just going to sit there for one to three days, without flying anywhere? Like over crops? Which is basically what I told them. Let’s hope their families and kids don’t eat the feces that will fall on crops before the birds die. Frankly, they should be the ones to explain to crying children why birds are falling out of the sky. Idiots.

  7. faith Cornellon 19 Jan 2010 at 7:40 am

    People who do these unforgiving acts do not anticipate the unforseen or unintended consequences or the aftermath of their deeds. There is no good doing it, thinking about it, and the ends here do not justify any of the things they are doing. Rachael Carson is forever right “the silent spring” . People just never learn or want to and don’t care. WE already intrude on so much land and air in nature. When you see Haiti now & the deforested areas it is so sad. It just perpetuates the misery already there. Faith Cornell

  8. Kate St. Johnon 30 Jan 2010 at 7:46 am

    Update, January 30, 2010:
    The poisoning plan was carried out but there is very little news about it, perhaps because the starlings didn’t die in a populated area. Here is one article that mentions it on Jan 28: http://www.wjactv.com/news/22369513/detail.html

    For those of you wondering who was responsible for it, the decisions or approval are made by the FAA with advice from USDA wildlife services. To me this indicates it’s not in the hands of local authorities.

    And for VERY interesting reading on the wildlife that actually damages aircraft, see this PDF: http://wildlife-mitigation.tc.faa.gov/wildlife/downloads/BASH90-08.pdf
    Check out page #48 in the document. It shows that only 16 people have died in 19 years of data collection and that “unknown birds,” Pelicans, Canada Geese and White-tailed Deer are what to worry about. Starlings didn’t make the human-death-or-injury list at all.

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