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Originally published January 2, 2012 at 6:23 PM | Page modified January 2, 2012 at 7:59 PM

Walla Walla official vows not to poison starlings again

Nevermore is the vow from a city official about a recent starling-eradication program that left a couple of Sudbury Landfill neighbors' yards littered with hundreds of dead birds.

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Nevermore is the vow from a city official about a recent starling-eradication program that left a couple of Sudbury Landfill neighbors' yards littered with hundreds of dead birds.

"I am not going to use it on my property (Sudbury Landfill) again because of the people," landfill supervisor Dennis Rakestraw said.

Rakestraw was referring to the use of DRC-1339, a USDA-approved species-specific toxin that was recently used to kill an estimated 3,000 of what had been about 5,000 unwanted starlings at the landfill.

The reasons for the mass poisonings are numerous.

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet, the nonnative species — starlings were brought to the United States in the 1890s — can spread histoplasmosis and salmonella in humans and spread animal diseases from farm to farm.

"It is a disease issue. You got 5,000 birds flying above your head, you better have a hat on. They carry diseases just like any other bird," Rakestraw said.

There were other reasons for the poisonings.

The fact sheet noted that starlings also compete with native birds for resources and pose a threat to air traffic and their droppings create numerous cleanup costs.

Rakestraw said that equipment deterioration and power loss were two other reasons for his decision to poison the birds.

The starlings tend to roost by the hundreds on power lines at the landfill. Then when startled, all the starlings would fly off at once, causing the power lines to oscillate and touch each other, which caused power failures, Rakestraw said.

So in mid-December, a USDA-authorized starling poisoning took place at the landfill. A licensed monitor watched and made sure no other species of birds consumed the bait. Then after thousands of starlings consumed the poison, the bait boxes were removed.

It was the second time the landfill had resorted to poisoning the birds.

The first time was in 2010, and local neighbor Mike Johnson remembered well the eerie sight he discovered on his yard on South Campbell Road.

"I woke up in the morning and I went out to do something. And it was 'Oh my God, there are dead birds everywhere,'" Johnson said.

What Johnson said he saw only a couple of days after each poisoning were hundreds of dead starlings, perhaps even thousands, on his property and that of his neighbor, the KUJ radio station offices.

Rakestraw confirmed that after both poisonings, city crews cleaned up the dead birds, which were mostly around the KUJ towers, a roosting spot.

"The ground was pretty much black when you looked over there," Johnson said.

Johnson added that when he and his neighbors learned the birds had been poisoned, they grew concerned that their dogs and cats might get sick.

USDA Assistant District Supervisor James Powell said it is unlikely that pets or other animals would get sick because the poison doesn't stay in the starlings, and he referred to the fact-sheet explanation.

"The treated starlings will metabolize and excrete the compound before expiring so that dogs, cats and wildlife will not be harmed by consuming the bodies of dead starlings," the fact sheet states.

It states that the only known secondary poisoning death from the avicide DRC-1339 was in 1968, when one crow died after possibly eating the innards of a recently poisoned pigeon.

Regardless of the unlikeliness of a secondary poisoning, Rakestraw said he will instead rely on noise makers to scare away the starlings in the future.

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