Biologists poison starlings feeding at livestock barns

Saturday, January 19, 2002

URBANA, Ill. -- Last week, the scene at some University of Illinois livestock barns was straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock flick.

"It was like the movie 'The Birds' out there," university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. "The starling problem on campus is huge."

So this week, federal biologists started poisoning the birds. By Wednesday the flocks were smaller, but dead birds littered the area.

That upset Pam Barrett, who lives south of the school's farm fields. She said she came out of her house Wednesday to find dead birds on the ground.

"Some are still hanging in the trees," Barrett said. "It really makes you sad to see it."

Kaler said biologists conducting the eradication had hoped the birds would die on campus.

"We certainly don't do this more often than we have to," she said.

The birds fly freely between beef, dairy and sheep barns, picking up food while they go.

"They're making the livestock sick, and they're causing losses in research," Kaler said. "These birds are smart enough to go for the high protein components of the food, so the livestock aren't getting what they need."

The starling population has been growing for several years, Kaler said.

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