Both the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) will begin removing non-native European starlings from a handful of Churchill County dairies and feedlots beginning Tuesday.
Wildlife Services will eradicate as many birds as possible through a poison to protect local livestock in a process that will take upward to three days. Because of the incredible number of starlings, both agencies said the birds are considered to be a nuisance population. Jessica Fagundes, NDA’s public information officer, said this will be a joint effort between the two agencies and their staffs. She added both agencies wanted to be proactive and alert county residents of their plans.
“With warmer weather and little to no snow, starlings have an easier time finding forage, and fewer starlings will search for food at dairies and feedlots,” said Doug Farris, NDA’s Animal Industry division administrator. “During colder weather with snowfall, forage is scarcer, causing starling to flock to dairies and feedlots for food.”
The Wildlife Services and the NDA will use a DRC-1339 bait to remove the birds. According to Fagundes, DRC-1339 is a slow-acting pesticide that kills target bird species, including the European starling, in one to three days.
“Many of the birds will return to their roosting locations before dying,” she said.
According to Wildlife Services, the starlings can spread disease and contaminate food and water sources for livestock, putting animals at risk of salmonella and E. Coli infections. Their feces becomes mixed up with livestock feed and water supply, which has killed those animals. Furthermore, birds can spread salmonella through their feet and feathers, walking from feces covered ground into feed and water troughs. The starlings can cause disease, reduce production in livestock, carry diseases between farms and cause crop losses.
“A group of 1,000 starlings can eat about 36-40 pounds of food per day, often consuming the energy-dense particles in the food,” stated Wildlife Services in 2015 when the agency eradicated at least 1,000 starlings in Churchill County. “This can lead to reduced milk production if the dairy cattle are not receiving adequate nutrition when the birds are present. Bird feces on buildings and equipment can shorten their useful life and increase cleanup costs, as well as potentially exposing farm workers to disease.”
“The goal of this work is not to reduce the starling population as a whole but rather to reduce and prevent damage to dairies and feedlots by eliminating starling populations at the dairies,” Farris said.
Fagundes added personnel will monitor the sites to ensure other animals do not come near the bait. Wildlife Services said research reveals a cat, owl or other raptor would need to feed on only the affected starlings for more than several months to be affected. Before its death, the bird will excrete all or most of the pesticide.
“The goal of this work is not to reduce the starling population as a whole but rather to reduce and prevent damage to dairies and feedlots by eliminating starling populations at the dairies,” Farris added.
In the unlikely event that the public finds dead or dying birds during the removal, Fagundes said Wildlife Services recommends handling the birds with single-use gloves and disposing of them in the trash. The dead birds do not pose a threat to humans or pets.
She said residents unable to dispose of the starlings should call the USDA at 775-851-4848 and provide the location of the birds by address.