Plague + Dead Birds
Nile Virus Takes Toll On Birds
Hundreds of dead birds rain down on town
Jan. 24, 2002 02:15:00
BREESE, Ill. - It looked like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock
movie: hundreds of dead birds covering JoAnn Thole's lawn in this
southwestern Illinois town.
"I've got 117 pounds of dead birds - I weighed them,"
Thole said as she opened her garage, which she had made into a
makeshift bird morgue.
The European starlings hadn't died of some mysterious disease, but
of poison distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the
request of local farmers, who said the birds had been eating their
cattle feed and causing other problems.
It's not the first time the issue of poisoning birds has surfaced
in the region.
Last year, Harvey Culli of Freeburg had to devote 30 of his prime
woodland acres to conservation for 25 years to settle a lawsuit after
he admitted poisoning red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds,
common grackles and horned larks. The birds had been damaging his
family's crops, he said.
The difference between the government's killing spree and Culli's
is that the 81-year-old farmer was poisoning birds protected under the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act with a pesticide that had not been approved
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Kirk Gustad,
director of the Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services unit in
Gustad uses a poison that is EPA-approved for killing birds and is
sprinkling it only where the starlings, which do not enjoy special
legal protection, look for their food, he said. Still, some blackbirds
are likely killed in the process, he said.
The agency has received about two dozen requests from farmers
around the state to kill off the starlings, which eat feed meant for
cows and spread disease in their droppings, Gustad said.
This week, thousands of dead birds dotted the streets of Breese, a
town of 4,000 where they've been seeking out trees to sleep in after
spending their days eating feed - and poisoned pellets- at nearby
There were so many dead birds last weekend, Breese Police Chief Jim
Hummert told residents to put the carcasses in containers at the curb
with their garbage.
"There are some subdivisions with so many dead birds and so
much bird droppings that kids can't go out and play," Hummert