Bye Bye Blackbird: USDA Admits Responsibility for Mass Bird Death; 4 Million Birds Killed in ’09
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had admitted responsibility for the poisoning of thousands of birds, many of which were found dead on the ground and frozen in trees in Yankton, South Dakota on Monday.
According to Truthout, the USDA’s Wildlife Services Program works with farmers to cull birds which often eat large quantities of agricultural feed and defecate on livestock and farm equipment. There’s even a name for this little-known government bird control program: Bye Bye Blackbird. In 2009 alone, the USDA killed more than four million red-winged blackbirds, starlings, cowbirds and grackles.
Pesticides are the weapon of choice; an avian poison called DRC-1339 was used in the Yankton case. Up to 5,000 birds were sprayed in neighboring Nebraska and somehow managed to make it to South Dakota before dying. The USDA stresses that this incident is in no way related to the mass bird deaths that have made headlines this year, most notably in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Under the Bye Bye Blackbird program, farmers are allowed to kill any blackbirds, grackles and starlings deemed to be a health risk or damaging to the economy. Farmers often hire private contractors to do the dirty work.
“Every winter, there’s massive and purposeful kills of these blackbirds,” Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society told Truthout.
Carol Bannerman, a spokeswoman for USDA Wildlife Services, dismisses the obvious animal cruelty implications of such killings.
“It’s not that we have anything against starlings, but our charge is to help protect agriculture… and protect property and human health or safety,” she said. “And the fact is, in a lot of rural settings, people say, ‘It’s just birds, what’s the problem?'”
It’s “just birds”… including some endangered ones. Ornithologists believe the mass killings may be reducing the number of the rare rusty blackbird, which roosts with more common varieties of blackbirds. With private contract killers not required to keep tabs of how many birds they kill, the rusty blackbird could be in serious danger.
Tagged animal cruelty, Carol Bannerman, cowbirds, DRC-1339, grackles, Greg Butcher, mass bird deaths, National Audubon Society, Nebraska, red-winged blackbirds, rusty blackbird, starlings, United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, USDA bird poison, USDA Bye Bye Blackbird, USDA responsible for bird deaths, USDA Wildlife Services Program, Yankton South Dakota