Story and photos by RODNEY D. BOAM
Although U.S. Wildlife Services are trying to tackle some pretty large predators in Idaho, like wolf, coyote and other wildlife predators, another top priority is controlling one of the nation’s most notorious invasive species, the European starling.
The black bird with brown speckles and long beak that flies in mesmerizing flocks is a menace to dairies and cattle feed yards in the county. They are known to cause problems for beef, dairy cows and other livestock.
Todd Grimm, Wildlife Service Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Idaho, said reducing European starlings and blackbird damage is high on their priority list.
“When it comes to killing starlings there are not many people who stand up and root for them,” Grimm said. “The birds spread disease, they take a lot of the most nourishing feed from dairies and cattle feed yards and they especially like to eat the high protein pellets meant to help livestock,” Grimm said.
Last winter Wildlife Services eliminated 117,000 of the birds and in 2011-12 winter they killed 92,000 starlings at feedlots and dairies in Idaho.
Those killed are like a drop in a bucket when there are estimated be more than 200 million European starlings spread from Alaska to Mexico.
George Graves, assistant director of Wildlife Services in Boise, said the organization is worried about five diseases starling are known to spread: E coli, Salmonella, Avian Tuberculosis, Johne’s disease and Histoplasmosis. These diseases are all spread from fecal material of starlings or pigeons.
“We use an avicide to treat dairies and feedlots,” Graves said. “We estimate the number of birds and estimate the poison needed based on the population. Then we mix the formula with a treated bate using EPA requirements.”
Every deceased bird is counted.
A 2012 study by the American Dairy Science Association showed the damage cost by the bird amounted to $800 million annually. Their study also estimated that 1,000 starlings could consume up to 630 pounds of cattle feed every hour.
When feed consumption by the birds occurs, they remove many of high-energy feed ingredients that may reduce milk production, the study said.
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