Birds, unlike insects, are universally loved. One only needs to take a stroll through one of those two “super-sized” hardware stores for evidence of man’s love affair with all things feathered. Birdbath bowls, bird feeders, bird feed, bird watching books and binoculars are but a few items of interest for the bird-loving enthusiast.
But the “big three” are nothing short of formidable. The European starling, a non-native bird species, was brought to the United States in 1890, to Central Park in New York City because a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts were determined to introduce every bird ever mentioned- in a Shakespeare publication or play- to the land of the free.
Since then the European starling population has grown to 200 million-plus throughout North America, constituting one-third of the world’s starling population. Despite the fact that 10 percent of starlings are killed off by other starlings in turf wars, they are nearly impossible to control.
The health and financial costs of birds
Starlings are omnivorous preferring a myriad of insects. But will also feed on fruit and dairy farm feed intended for cattle, as much as 4 oz. of feed per day. A group of 10,000 starlings commonly consume as much as 1.25 tons of cattle feed per day. It is estimated that overall bird populations cause an annual loss of $100 million to U.S. agriculture.
Starlings also carry and transmit diseases which include meningitis, as well as seven different forms of encephalitis; bacterial diseases such as erysipeloid, salmonellosis, parathyroid, pasteurellosis, and listeriosis; mycotic (fungal) diseases like aspergillosis, blastomycosis among others. It is estimated that there are as many as 65 different diseases transmittable to humans or domestic animals by European starlings, House sparrows and Feral pigeons.
European starlings, pigeons and sparrows routinely damage structures on private and public property with fecal contamination. Corrosion damage to metal structures and painted finishes, such as those on automobiles, occurs because of uric acid from bird droppings. Electrical utility companies frequently have problems with birds causing power outages by shorting out transformers and substations.
Pigeon, starling and sparrow fecal matter defaces and accelerates the deterioration of aircraft in hangars. Accumulation of fecal droppings on planes, maintenance equipment, helicopters and hangar floors results in unscheduled maintenance to clean aircraft and buildings in order to protect painted surfaces from acidic fecal droppings and maintain sanitary work environments. The birds also build nests in engines of idle aircraft which may cause engine fire or other damage.
Bird-induced aircraft accidents
The risk that European starlings pose to aircraft is well documented.
- In Boston, in 1960, 62 people were killed in a plane crash that collided with a flock of European starlings.
- In 1999, a Boeing 757 struck a flock of European starlings at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and was forced to abort the flight. Damages were assessed at more than $500,000 dollars by airport officials.
- In 2003, a B737-300 departing from the Greater Rochester International Airport, in Rochester New York struck a flock of European starlings, causing substantial damage. All the fan blades were replaced and the engine was serviced, costing approximately $200,000 dollars.
Starlings and blackbirds are particularly dangerous, in airports, because of their high body density and tendency to travel in large flocks of hundreds to thousands of birds. They tend to intersect aircraft flight lines upon entering or exiting a winter roost, presenting a significant threat to incoming and outgoing flights.
Starlings, sparrows and pigeons are a significant threat to the fiscal and biological health of humans as well as other animals. It is likely that managing the consequences of these non-native birds species will continue to be as daunting as it is costly so it is best to enlist the expertise of the professional bird control specialists at jcehrlich.com.