We all seek a break from frozen pipes, impassable roads and the added work that snow and colds adds to an already full dairy farming schedule. However, now is not the time to long for spring and the return of birdsong. Unfortunately, the increasing nuisance of European Starlings is reversing our fondness for birds.
The New Math of Starling Multiplication
European starlings were first introduced to the United States in 1890 with the romantic notion of populating New York’s Central Park with all the species of birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works (Chapman 1925, Bent 1950). In 1992 it was estimated that the population of starlings has grown to 140-200 million birds. During the winter in Ohio, it is common to observe flocks of 500 to over 2,000 birds with some large winter roosts containing 400,000-600,000 birds.
The First Sign that You’re Losing It!
When was the last time you were amazed at the sight of several hundred (or even a thousand birds) swooping into the trees and fields around your farm? I’m guessing it was a long time ago. Now instead of counting birds when we see them swoop in, we start adding up the less picturesque effects of these frequent flyers.
Birds of a Feather are Flying Off with Your Profits!
Because of their foreign origin and aggressive behavior, European Starlings are considered an invasive species. These starlings are listed on the World Conservation Union list of the World’s 100 Worst Invasive Species. They are found year round in the continental United States, northern Mexico and southern Canada, expanding further north during summers. It is estimated that overall bird populations cause an annual loss of $100 million to U.S. agriculture. Cattle feedlots suffer most from wintertime flocks which can reach as high as 100,000 or more per day. These huge flocks of starlings can have a negative impact on the profitability of a dairy farm. They consume huge amounts of livestock feed they spoil what is left with their droppings. Starling droppings may also cause components of steel buildings to degrade. Research in the U.S. by Pimentel in 1999 estimated that these birds cause $800 million dollars of damage to agriculture annually. The average cost of E. coli O157 alone to the cattle industry exceeds $267 million annually (NCBA 2004).
Unfortunately Starlings do NOT eat like birds!!!
Starlings can eat up to 50% of their weight daily. For 5000 birds this results in 250 lbs of feed consumed daily. If you don’t feel you’re looking at such big numbers, consider that 16 birds eat one pound of feed daily. With the rising price of feed this equals hundreds of dollars in revenue lost in a single day just from lost feed. Birds often consume the more expensive components in the ration such as protein pellets or grain and seldom consume the roughage. That is not the final problem. Starlings poop an ounce out. Every ounce expelled is filled with e coli, salmonella and other diseases thus contaminating the remaining feed. Also be aware for every one you see in the spring, there will be 10 more in the fall. Starlings adapt easily to multiple habitats and may fly between 15 to 30 miles to feed. They will increase their flying distance from roosting sites to feeding areas farther away, if a desirable source of food is plentiful at a more distant location. Individual birds return frequently to the same farm on a daily basis for feeding. They swoop in to get feed put outside for cattle. They damage plastic wrap on bales and leave excrement on everything. They also will sit on overhead rafters in barns and consequently leave manure along the backs of feeding cows as well as leave manure in the feed itself.
Starlings Spread Disease
Another concern is the potential for disease transmission. Since birds often travel from one farm to the next, they pose a threat to farm biosecurity. At livestock operations, starlings may preferentially select high-protein components of cattle rations, leaving the ration protein deficient and resulting in sub-optimal growth and milk production (Johnson and Glahn 1992). Studies have identified that farms on which birds have access to livestock feeds were more likely to have cattle positive for Campylobacter spp. and Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis than farms that had stricter feed hygiene protocols (Wesley et al. 2000, Fredriksen et al. 2004). As many as 65 different diseases transmittable to humans or domestic animals have been associated with pigeons, European starlings, and house sparrows.
Don`t Wing It
Once you have acknowledged that European Starlings are a problem for which solutions must be found, you will be able to stop money from flying off your bottom line. The first thought might be to put up fake owls but like some other traditional fixes this one only proves that first you have to be smarter than the birds. European starlings know a fake owl from a real owl just the same as you do. Right? These birds are so adaptable they quickly learn to ignore noise and visual scare tactics.
Practice Bird Control
Possible methods of controlling the European Starling population follow:
- Sharpshooting with a pellet gun
- Plastic mesh netting
- Approved baits
- Commercial equipment
- Strips along roof or wherever you see them
- Spike deterrents
- $1 store or car dealership flashy fringes on doors, calf hutches etc.
- Fishing lines strung slightly above beams so birds can`t perch
- Hire commercial falconers
- Thorough removal of nesting sites or design modifications of buildings
- Check government programs that may be available in your area
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Unless you`re being paid as a site for a movie remake of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, dealing with European Starlings needs your attention. Birds have their place but not in your barns and not stealing your feed. These birds mean business. Lost dairy business. If you are not doing anything, you could be losing a lot.