Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winter Blackbird Die-Off

Remember that weird bird die-off around this time last year? Where hundreds of starlings were found dead on the streets in South Dakota?

The USDA, whose job it is to protect and promote agriculture, including livestock farming, has admitted to poisoning the birds intentionally.
"They used a bait laced with the poison DRC-1339. The USDA says the birds ate the bait then flew back to Yankton and died."
- Hundreds Of Yankton, South Dakota Birds Poisoned By USDA
The intentional killing was not incidental.  In this case a farmer complained to the USDA that a flock of about 5,000 starlings were defecating in his cattle feed. Anyone can make a similar complaint, with similar outcome, if they can show wild animals causing harm.

The bird-cull program is known, in USDA parlance, as Bye Bye Blackbird:
"The USDA's role in the South Dakota bird deaths puts a focus on a little-known government bird-control program that began in the 1960s under the name of Bye Bye Blackbird, which eventually became part of the USDA and was housed in the late '60s at a NASA facility."
- Bye Bye Blackbird: USDA Acknowledges A Hand In One Mass Bird Death, Christian Science Monitor, 20 January 2011
It isn't just Bye Bye Blackbird, but Bye Bye bats, bears, beavers, skunks, squirrels, pigs, and millions of other birds. Here's a government pdf file that lists the deaths, most of them intentional, of 4,120,291 animals in 2009, 1.3 million starlings alone:

USDA: Animals Taken by Wildlife Services - FY 2009

These aren't even all the deaths:
"While the USDA keeps tabs on the number of birds the program euthanizes, the total death toll isn't known because private contractors operating under the depredation order aren't required to keep count in the case of blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, and starlings."
- Bye Bye Blackbird: USDA Acknowledges A Hand In One Mass Bird Death, Christian Science Monitor, 20 January 2011
I knew the government killed animals that interfered with dairy businesses, cattle feedlots, chicken farms, and fields of grain. I didn't know it was this extensive.

Greg Butcher at the National Audubon Society says:
"Every winter, there's massive and purposeful kills of these blackbirds. ... These guys are professionals, and they don't want to advertise their work. They like to work fast, efficiently, and out of sight."
Photo from the Christian Science Monitor, caption:  "A worker with US Environmental Services, a private contractor, picks up a dead bird in Beebe, Ark. on Jan. 1, 2010. The USDA said it killed hundreds of starlings in South Dakota this week."
Thanks to Melinda for the story.


Anonymous said...

Whoa, WTF... I can't believe I'm suprised.

Adele Hawkins said...

Holy shit! Figures, agriculture has a powerful sway (I mistyped that as "slay" at first) in our government, but I didn't know that it was this extensive.

Bix said...

It's the USDA against the starlings. The USDA isn't going to let the starlings eat food destined for cattle and then poop willy nilly. It's a shame their tactic of choice is mass poisoning. (Who else eats the bait?)

I'd like to see the blackbirds have a fighting chance. Bring in a predator. I know, I know, the predator becomes the next pest. But still...

Neilesh Patel (Recruiter focused on Food Manufacturing Jobs) said...

I enjoyed some of these posts, thanks for writing. I will share them with my colleagues. Is it ok if we include some of your posts in our newsletter? We will link to your site, of course. :) I think our audience would enjoy these tidbits from time to time – they are all food and beverage industry professionals. You can email me at the address I provided.


Angela and Melinda said...

My friend Margaret on FB, who knows a lot about birds, noted that starlings aren't native to the U.S. but were brought here as part of a romantic 19th-century scheme to import all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. And now we blame the starlings.