Saturday, September 12, 2009

Starlings: Invasive Problem

The European, or common starling, Sturnus vulgarisis native to Eurasia is here as a result of just 100 birds turned loose in New York; part of a plan, to establish
in the New World, each bird Shakespeare mentioned
in his writings. From those few birds we have approxi-mately 200 million birds which compete with native birds in all manner of habitat, nets sites and
food sources.

Starlings’ droppings not only cause sanitation problems, but are corrosive to paint and plaster and are a growth medium for a fungus that causes human respiratory disease. The birds themselves carry diseases that may be transmitted to humans, as well. And, large flocks pose a hazard to planes; starlings are responsible for the most deadly bird strikes in aviation..

It is for this reason that, in New Jersey, Utah and other states, as many as 650,000 starlings were poisoned last year alone, an all-time record for Washington. The most popular lethal tactic is a poison called DRC-1339, which is often sprinkled on french fries, a favorite starling snack. Within a day or two, starlings keel over from organ failure.

By their very numbers they have a negative affect on biodiversity through the large quantities of insects, spiders, snails and worms, lizards and frogs while driving native birds from these resources. They compete aggressively with native birds which nest in cavities. I have seen them drive out local Lewis’s Woodpeckers from their own nests; often destroying eggs and killing nestlings.

These birds transmit disease to domestic animals by contaminating food and water sources with their droppings. They impact crop production by decimating plants of fruit, especially berries and grapes and eating seed from grain fields and by pulling new sprouts right out of the ground.

It is for the agricultural reasons that a much better tactic has been undertaken…at least in my mind. Several wineries (grape growers) have taken to including the employment of falconers. Their birds do what the birds do naturally; hunt other birds. And what easier prey then a few hundred thousand starlings? Falconry is an age-old method of hunting involving a bird’s natural ability to stalk, pursue and generally harass birds much in the same way a cat plays with a mouse.

Unlike other birds that usually hide in bushes when a predator shows up, starlings flock together, not unlike a school of fish. And should they come upon a vineyard and see the threat of a patrolling falcon…they will fly away to find another place to feed.

Generally, the falcons don’t even hurt the birds; they are hand-fed before they fly. I just love this solution! Not only are fewer native birds exposed to poison, but nobody can harass the hunters as being inhumane. Wonder about the farmers who cannot afford their own falconers? I remember working at one of the tallest buildings in Denver during the time several Peregrine Falcons were raised and released as a method of
pigeon control.

All this points to: please give our native species a
leg up! Help them out by keeping their habitat viable and unbroken. If it is broken up…create new places
for native species to thrive. It can be done, and
given half a chance perhaps they can withstand the invading species.

Stunning imagery on YouTube: Starlings and a single falcon...through I never saw the falcon, I noticed the damned starlings never landed!

Here's a shorter clip. You can see the falcon and also that these birds don't land either!



Anonymous said...

Although I disagree with them being brought over in the first place, I think that they should just be let well enough alone. Nature has a way of bringing everything back to order.

Beverly said...

Well, it could be urban legend...but I thought it was documented history that the Shakespearian enthusiasts in NY had released them...for the purpose of introducing them here.

No matter, I agree once here…such creatures are hard to be rid of. However, I also think once they are here, here and thriving, there is little anyone can do to eradicate them.

In my mind, the attempts at eradication are about as bad as the pests themselves. Poisoning birds, indeed; how on earth do they keep the treats only for the intended targets?

What do you think of the big snakes that seem to be colonizing in about a third of the US? The pythons can get to be the length of three men’s height; large enough to easily swallow a child (I worked for Texaco and remember the photos of a local worker at a tropical refinery being cut (dead) from such a snake. An amazing photo).

There are no natural predators here, for such snakes, which get to be 200 pounds. They have been found, in increasing numbers, from San Francisco all along the coast to Virginia; especially in the Everglades where nearly 150,000 are thought to now live.

Or…how about those African Bees? I’m happy to say that, at least so far, they do not like the cold winters of Colorado!

Anyway, this is a pet peeve of mine; introduced species. Who knew a tree in its natural habitat might host over 400 creatures, but when planted in another country only perhaps 4-5 might find a way to use the thing? And the sad thing is, removing said tree from its natural place is removing and disrupting habitat for the creatures that need it. Check out what’s going on with the huge old Oaks of England. Well, we are doing the same here…with our own fractured habitats. How can Nature keep up with us? Its enough to make ya cry.

As always, it is good to see you SG! Thanks for stopping by

Beverly said...

Okay...I worried and fought with myself about posting this piece...but this just in from my friend Judy Cisney (who made the comment on Facebook where I linked here):

"Hi Bev! I think I'll get a copy of this book. I'm very concerned about this issue ( and others) and am struggling to figure out what really motivates the right wing, and why they think the way they do. Their conclusions seem to come from another planet--like science fiction. Maybe they're pod people!"

Yippieeeeeeeeeeee...someone else is going to look into the matter! It's worth posting the uncomfortable piece here, then.

Thanks Judy!!!