Dawn Eischen 804-524-6179

Carol Bannerman, USDA Wildlife Service 301-734-6464

Feb. 2, 2009

VDOT running out of options

PRINCE GEORGE/CHARLES CITY – Thousands of European starlings continue to roost atop the Benjamin Harrison Bridge each day despite three years of non-lethal efforts by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program to make the bridge less appealing to the birds. As a result, VDOT agreed to have USDA personnel place controlled bait stations on the south end of the bridge today in an effort to reduce the starling population.

“The accumulation of bird feces on the bridge not only creates unpleasant and unsanitary working conditions for our bridge staff, but it also contributes to accelerated bridge deterioration,” says Richmond District Administrator Tom Hawthorne. “We consider baiting as a last resort, but we’ve really run out of options.”

The USDA will be using a federally-restricted pesticide, called DRC-1339, to reinforce earlier non-lethal methods. Pesticide treated bait will be spread on trays today in a location away from the water and any remaining after treatment will be removed. If necessary, the treatment may be used again in a few weeks. The USDA recommends anyone who finds a dead starling in close proximity to the bridge use disposable gloves or a plastic bag to pick up the carcass, as with any animal carcass, to avoid exposure to any disease or parasite. Carcasses should be placed in the trash.

The baiting program has been evaluated using the required National Environmental Policy Act’s (NEPA) environmental impact statement process, which determined the baiting program will not have any long-term negative impacts on the environment. DRC-1339 is unstable in the environment and degrades rapidly when exposed to sunlight, moisture or heat. The pesticide normally takes one to three days to affect the birds. They most often return to their roosting, loafing or feeding location before responding to the pesticide, but can also seek cover in dense vegetation.

Research suggests animals that ingest or play with a bird that has been exposed to this toxin will not be harmed. Pesticide that was not absorbed in the bird’s body is metabolized and excreted within hours after consumption according to the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center. A cat, dog, owl or other predator would need to feed exclusively on a large amount of exposed birds for more than several months to be affected according to USDA research.

Other birds are known to frequent the Benjamin Harrison Bridge. Large European starling flocks will typically keep other birds away from their area, making it unlikely that others might consume the pesticide, says the USDA. Observation of the bridge over recent days confirmed that other birds should not be affected. If that pattern alters, the USDA will discontinue baiting until a time when only European starlings are present.

Six months ago, VDOT began using a non-lethal pyrotechnic noisemaker device to scare European starlings away from the bridge. The technique worked initially and the birds seemed to avoid roosting on the bridge. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, the birds grew tolerant of the noise and returned. Other non-lethal methods used were harassment with horns and bridge repairs. All these methods provided only short term relief.

The current $9.1 million Benjamin Harrison Bridge renovation project involves repainting the 41 year old structure. “The contractor has had to remove large amounts of bird droppings from the bridge, 18 inches thick in some areas, before they could begin removing the paint,” says VDOT Petersburg Residency Administrator Ray Varney. “This increases the potential health hazards for the contractor and VDOT staff responsible for this project.” The project is expected to be completed by October.

European starlings are not native to North America. About 100 starlings were released in New York in the early 1890s and have expanded to become one of the most populous and dispersed species on the continent. These aggressive, cavity-nesting birds compete with native species. Their overabundant flocks can be a nuisance due to noise and excessive droppings, which have been known to increase disease risks.

Fact Sheet

More information about the Benjamin Harrison Bridge rehabilitation project:


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