Starling control program earns rave reviews

Silver Sky Farm in Michigan got a nice payback when it invested in a starling control program.

For $400, the farm eliminated more than 90 percent of the pesky birds that had been soiling the barn with dung and stealing grain from the cows' rations. The day after the birds were poisoned, it was quite a sight. Dead birds were found in all seven of the farm's upright silos - a popular roosting place. "They just kind of blanketed the silo floors," says Frank Konkel, co-owner of the 280-cow dairy in Hesperia, Mich.

The baiting program far surpassed previous efforts the dairy had made at controlling the starlings.

The program worked for Silver Sky Farm, as well as a number of other dairies in Michigan. If a similar program is offered in your area, you may want to consider it.

Solves pesky problem
The program is not perfect. In some cases, weather can be a complicating factor. The program works best if it's cold and snowy outside; that way, the birds are more likely to congregate around a farm and be a captive audience for control efforts.

And, the poison used to kill the starlings can kill other bird species as well. For instance, it can kill pigeons, crows and ravens. However, when it is cold and snowy outside - in the dead of winter - those other species are less likely to be around. Starlings remain the principal target.

"We have been quite successful in eliminating threats to non-target animals," says Pete Butchko, Michigan state director of USDA/Wildlife Services.

At Silver Sky Farm, starlings had wreaked havoc for a number of years. "They were eating so much corn and soy out of the lactating cow mix that it resembled a dry-cow mix a few hours after feeding it," says Lance Johnson, the other owner of Silver Sky Farm.

When Johnson and Konkel heard about the starling control program offered by USDA/Michigan Wildlife Services, they jumped at the chance. The $400 fee seemed like a bargain.

Last January, a Wildlife Services technician came to their farm and initiated the program - a classic bait-and-switch technique designed to kill birds. For four days, he placed a regular feed supplement down the center alley of the free-stall barn, which attracted the starlings. Then, on the fifth day, he switched to bait treated with a toxicant known as DRC-1339.

The DRC-1339 toxicant, which is registered for USDA-use only, destroys kidney function in the birds. Birds that consume it usually die within 24 hours. By the time birds die, virtually all the toxicant in their bodies has been metabolized, eliminating the possibility of secondary poisoning.
Good success

USDA reports good success with the program. Michigan Wildlife Services conducted follow-up interviews with all 105 farms that participated in the program last winter. Ninety-six of the farms reported that 75 percent or more of the starlings on their farms had been killed.

"We're delighted that we've come upon a technique that is effective and safe and well-received. I think this has exceeded our expectations," Butchko says.

Availability of program varies by state

Not all states offer the starling control program offered by Michigan Wildlife Services. Some states are just gearing up, while other states don't offer any programs at all.

Wisconsin ran a pilot program last winter. "It was very successful," says David Nelson, of Wisconsin Wildlife Services.

However, Wisconsin Wildlife Services has other urgent priorities, so a starling control program will only be continued as much as manpower allows.

To find out if your state offers a starling control program, go to the following Web site:

Then, click on "wildlife services by state" to pull up a U.S. map. Click on your state to obtain contact information, including phone numbers.

Or, call (301) 734-7921.



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