While the USDA’s Wildlife Services has been involved in more-controversial agricultural programs, such as large predator control, how locals viewed the recent poisoning of starlings at Horton Feedlot may have been determined by how they viewed the birds themselves.
“We really liked the flocks of those birds,” said Mary Jo Upham. She and some other neighbors found the poisoning more than intrusive to their own property rights and questioned how responsible the Wildlife Services officials were in their explanation.
Upham, for instance, noted that when she talked to the agency about upcoming plans to poison more birds, a representative queried, “ ‘You don’t really care if Horton’s makes money, do you?’”
Starlings are an invasive (non-native) species that are doing a lot better in the U.S. and other areas to which they have been introduced than in their native Europe and Great Britain. Flocks of starlings can be huge, up to half million birds, and they are noted to be noisy, and their calls highly unmusical.
While starlings have the same beneficial effects as other birds — reducing insect populations, for instance — the large flocks near agricultural areas tend to be viewed mostly as pests. Starlings are fairly aggressive for their size and tend to out compete other species and their use of other species nests also makes them a concern for biologists.
Patty Kummrow said her children were also shocked by the dead birds and there was no warning about the previous rounds of poisoning. She also said her puppy was sick after eating one of the dead birds, a situation Wildlife Services continues to discredit.
“We used to have huge bird populations here – thousands and thousands of them,” she said. “One guy who left his card said that I should feel differently about it, but I said it was not his right to pollute my property with dead birds.”
However, at the property that may have been most affected, Helmut Roy, the owner of the KOA campground said he was not bothered by the situation.
“It really wasn’t all that different than picking up after the dogs here,” he said. “I really don’t like starlings anyway.”
Some neighbors claim that raptors were also poisoned during the two rounds of reducing the starling flock at Horton Feedlot near Wellington. However, Michael Tincher, rehabilitation coordinator with the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program said that could not be established.
Tincher also noted that starling populations can be pesky and that ongoing tests were probably a “necessary evil,” to protect agricultural interests. However, he said, assuming that raptors are not going to ingest undigested grains from these poisonings is probably not a valid assumption.
“A bird in distress is an obvious trigger for a predatory response,” he said.