Swooping starlings spark nasty recollections by Bob Karolevitz A flock of 100 or more starlings swooped down on our daughter and son-in-law�s commercial orchard the other day and re-kindled some rather distasteful memories for me.
Fortunately it�s the off-season for their business � when apple trees are bare, strawberry plants are mulched and pie cherries have long since been picked and pitted. Those particular starlings, then, didn�t do any economic damage as they filled up on unidentified seeds on the ground.
But the recollections I have hundreds of thousands of those messy birds invading a single cattle feedlot and wreaking havoc on the rations in the bunks came back in a shocking flash.
In the process I wrote an article for a national publication decrying the losses suffered by farmers in the West. I especially told how potato peelings were mixed with alfalfa and silage to feed beef herds in Idaho � until hordes of starlings showed up. The invasion was disastrous.
One Fish and Wildlife agent reported that he personally watched the voracious birds gobble up 12 tons of spud waste in one day.
And what they didn�t eat, they fouled up with their droppings!
It�s hard to imagine today that they are all descendants of just 30 pairs imported from Europe by Eugene Scheiffin, a drug manufacturer, and released in New York City�s Central Park in March of 1890. Oh, how they multiplied!
That�s why I�m concerned that the flock of 100 will grow and return to give problems to our kids when the strawberries and cherries are ripe. I hope I�m wrong.
Growers throughout the country have tried countless ways to scare off the starlings which sometimes come in such large numbers that they darken the sky. Aluminum owls, electronic scarecrows, aerial bombs, clappers, rubber snakes, balloons and streamers, small cannons, fog guns, ultraviolet lights, ad infinitum, have not done the job.
Even poisons were ineffective because a single starling tasting something wrong will screech out a warning cry and send all the other birds flying away. Apparently an answer was found in TR13, a slow-acting poison which is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. When mixed with grain or other bait feed which starlings like, they�ll eat their fill, only to die on their roosts some hours later.
That sounds sort of cruel, but the yellow-billed, short-tailed cousin of the talking mynah keeps proliferating, producing sometimes three broods averaging five birds each during the nesting season. It�s hard to control numbers like that.
Actually the problem in the United States has been blamed on William Shakespeare, even though he�d been dead 274 years before starlings were turned loose in Central Park. It seems that the American Acclimatization Society � which was headed by Eugene Scheiffin � decided to import all the birds Shakespeare mentioned in his plays. The starling was one of them.
Well, whether it was the Bard of Avon�s fault or not, I�m still worried about the flock which descended on Garrity�s Prairie Gardens, even though the birds were relatively harmless in their wintertime foray.
They might be back in greater numbers come spring, and even grandson Sam�s BB gun won�t be enough to deter them.
� 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz