[mou] poisoning blackbirds?

Jim Williams two-jays@att.net
Fri, 6 Apr 2007 21:29:14 -0500

This is excerpted from an AP article published 25 March in several 
North Dakota newspapers.

Jim Williams
Wayzata, Minnesota


Demand for healthier sunflower oil for potato chip frying is spurring a 
debate about whether millions of blackbirds should die to make it 
easier to raise the crop.

Demand is rising for NuSun, a sunflower variety that produces oil with 
less saturated fat and no trans fat, said John Sandbakken, 
international marketing director for the National Sunflower 
Association. Saturated and trans fats help clog arteries and increase 
the risk of heart disease.

One big reason for NuSun's increased popularity is the decision by the 
Frito-Lay snack food company to use NuSun oil to cook its major brands 
of potato chips, Sandbakken said. The company announced the switch in 
May 2006, and sunflower plantings need to rise by 600,000 acres next 
year to meet the new demand, he said.

But a big roadblock to increased sunflower production is blackbirds, 
which feast on the oilseed crop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the birds cause about $10 
million in damage each year to sunflowers in North Dakota, which 
produces about half of the nation's sunflower output. Last year's North 
Dakota sunflower crop was valued at $158 million.

The North Dakota Legislature is considering a bill to spend $79,500 to 
help in a federal effort to control blackbirds. One of the methods 
would involve baiting and killing the birds.

Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon 
Society, said finding a blackbird solution may take more money than the 
Legislature appears willing to provide.

"I have to sympathize with the problem. You're basically ... trying to 
keep birds from eating birdseed," he said. "It's a tough problem. I 
don't expect the solution is going to be as easy or cheap as they would 
like it to be."

The project would include common methods, including noise cannons that 
scare the blackbirds, as well as a new one - poisoning blackbirds with 
bait along gravel roads. The birds land on gravel roads to get the grit 
their gizzards need to help digest food.

"Roadside baiting, coupled with existing methods, may be the answer," 
Sandbakken said.

Supporters of using poisoned bait say other control methods only move 
blackbirds from one field to another, while opponents say the poison 
will kill more than just blackbirds.

"The first thing that comes to my mind - aren't pheasants kind of 
important to you folks up there?" said Butcher, whose office is in 
Washington, D.C.

Research in Louisiana and Texas of a similar blackbird baiting method 
in rice fields found that mourning doves and meadowlarks were most 
affected of all non-targeted birds. Both birds are prevalent in North 
Dakota, and the western meadowlark is the state bird.

"The chemical will interact with mourning doves and meadowlarks in 
Texas identically to a meadowlark and mourning dove in North Dakota," 
said Kevin Johnson, an environmental contaminant specialist with the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency, which has opposed blackbird baiting programs in the past, 
does not take positions on state legislation, spokesman Ken Torkelson 

The National Audubon Society is opposing the bill, said state director 
Genevieve Thompson. "It just seems like a more integrated approach that 
does use nonlethal methods does make more sense," she said.

Poisoning migratory birds is illegal, but Fish and Wildlife allows the 
killing of blackbirds without an agency permit if the birds are 
damaging crops or about to damage crops, Johnson said.

The agency denied a permit in March 2000 for USDA to poison about 2 
million blackbirds in the Dakotas. The permit requested a spring 
baiting, when the birds would not have been damaging crops. It was 
intended to cut down blackbird numbers when the sunflower crop matured 
in the fall.

Johnson said officials also worried that other birds would be killed. 
If the roadside baiting program also affects non-targeted birds, "then 
we're back to that same issue," he said.

The blackbird baiting program would include monitoring of other bird 
species. Linz said the bait would be put in trays, using woven wire to 
screen out pheasants, doves and other birds.