Starling eradication to cease at landfill, official says

A mass poisoning at the city landfill won't be repeated due to neighborhood concerns.

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WALLA WALLA -- 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 toxin recently used to kill an estimated 3,000 of what had been about 5,000 unwanted European starlings at the landfill. DRC-1339 targets only a few species, including starlings.

The reasons for the mass poisonings are numerous.

According to a USDA fact sheet, the non-native species -- starlings were brought to the U.S. 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 notes starlings compete with native birds for resources, pose a threat to air traffic and create abundant cleanup costs due to droppings.

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

The starlings tend to roost together by the hundreds on power lines at the landfill. When startled, the starlings would all 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 at the 00 block of 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.' And it makes you wonder what the heck is going on," 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 at 45 S. Campbell Road.

Rakestraw confirmed that after both poisoning, city crews came out and 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 were poisoned, they grew concerned that their dogs and cats might get sick.

USDA Assistant District Supervisor James Powell said the chance of pets or other animals getting sick is unlikely 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 dogs, cats and wildlife will not be harmed by consuming the bodies of dead starlings," the fact sheet stated.

It went on to state 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 noisemakers to scare away the starlings in the future.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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