Poisoning Blackbirds

USDA comes to aid of sunflower farmers by testing new program to kill off blackbirds:

"The idea is to use cages filled with captured blackbirds to lure their unsuspecting relatives, said George Linz, a research wildlife biologist. Trays of brown rice will be placed atop the cages, which will be positioned away from sunflower fields and along roadsides, stubble fields and cattails where the birds ‘roost and loaf,' he said. The bait will be surrounded by a wire mesh designed to keep out ‘non-target' birds such as pheasants and doves, Linz said. Initially, the bait will not be poisoned.Researchers will watch from a distance to see if the plan works. If it does, the brown rice eventually will be treated with a poison that has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, one that won't harm other animals if they eat a poisoned blackbird, Linz said."

Link: Full Article

* * *

Hmmph! Would you feed backyard birds sunflower seed grown by farmers who poison birds to protect their crops? I can see it already...backyard birdwatchers protest by purchasing sunflower seed products harvested from "non-kill" farms, so the farmers who use poison end up with shrinking profits anyway. Probably not, though. Perhaps they are “growing bird food,” but most sunflower seed crop is crushed for oil, which is consumed by people. A byproduct of crushing process is used for livestock feed. Still, a lot of that seed is ultimately purchased by backyard birdwatchers.

Though not yet tested and approved, the poisoning plan raises questions. What loss percentages will sunflower seed farmers deem acceptable and how many blackbirds will have to die in order to sustain that desired profit? Blackbirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, though, right? Section 21.43, Title 50 Code of Federal Regulations states that:

"A Federal Permit shall not be required to control Red-winged, Rusty, and Brewer's Blackbirds, cowbirds, all grackles, crows, and magpies when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance."

How will they deal with deaths of non-target bird species, especially those that are in decline? I think it's disingenuous to cite "pheasants and doves" as non-target birds - there are similarly sized songbirds that are sure to be poisoned other than the prime culprits.

Farmers have a right to protect their crops and losing 50% must represent a financial disaster for them. I can sympathize with that, but the irony is not lost on me that one day I might be setting out birdseed in my backyard that came from farms where birds were poisoned. The list of things I do or technology I use that is directly or indirectly injurious to birds seems to keep growing.

Rusty Blackbird © 2007 Mike McDowell