News last update:6 Aug 2012

Starlings sacrificed to save dairy feed

Dozens of European starlings fell out of the sky onto the ground and into trees last week in Kinderhook in the state of New York, USA. It was the result of a US Department of Agriculture sanctioned controlled killing of birds that are considered a threat to specific dairy farms.

The dark, lightly spotted birds that travel in enormous flocks consume massive amounts of cattle feed, according to a spokesman of the Columbia County Health Department.
He said the USDA went to two farms this week, one in Kinderhook and one in Millerton, where the starlings were congregating and laid down a large mat laced with poisonous bird seed.
The mats were spread out for a few hours at a time and observed closely by USDA officials. The poison takes less than 24 hours to kill the birds.
Several Kinderhook residents called the health department after spotting dead birds on town farms. Some people even reported seeing them fall out of the sky.
Not the first time
This is not the first time the USDA has sanctioned similar pest control operations, Coons said, and the agriculture department always lets town officials know of the operation ahead of time.
The birds, all European starlings, were killed as part of a US Department of Agriculture program to eradicate bird flocks that threaten dairy farms, said Carol Bannerman, a spokeswoman for the federal agency.
Bannerman said European starlings are a serious threat to dairy farmers because they can devour large amounts of seed put out for the cattle.
She said federal officials determined about 2,500 starlings had descended on a dairy farm in the Kinderhook area this winter.
“That number of starlings would be eating a little less than 45 kg of seed that was set out for the dairy cattle on a daily basis,” Bannerman said. “The starlings also choose the best part of the seed, with the highest nutritional value.”
Salmonella threat
In addition to eating seed meant for the cattle, she said, the birds leave behind large amounts of excrement that can carry diseases, including salmonella, that can be passed on to the cattle.
Bannerman said the Department of Agriculture uses a pesticide approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency to carry out its starling eradication program and closely monitors the treated bird feed to ensure no other birds feed from the bait site. The farmer is responsible for the cost of the operation, she said.
Eradication program 
Bannerman said European starlings were introduced into the United States in the 1800s and are considered an exotic, invasive species because they compete with indigenous bird species for food and shelter.
The agency conducts similar starling eradication programs across the country. In New York, roughly 100,000 birds were killed through the program in 2009, she said.


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Dick Ziggers

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