the way out here

Stop the starlings

Posted 8/31/22

The sun rises over a misty valley setting, bugs flitting around. A hazy dew dampens the already warm pastures and the fields of vegetables adorned in unhindered weeds. The rooster is crowing from the …

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the way out here

Stop the starlings


The sun rises over a misty valley setting, bugs flitting around. A hazy dew dampens the already warm pastures and the fields of vegetables adorned in unhindered weeds. The rooster is crowing from the top of the hill, and the cows are lining up at the door of the barn waiting for their morning rituals to begin.

As the world wakes, the stands of corn reach anew to the dawn. One can almost hear the peaceful, clichéd melody of the Blue Danube waltz serenading the nearly finished ears of golden corn, their ribbons of silky gold and brown hailing their tasty completion.

But wait. There, from out of the multiflora rose comes a dark cloud. Flapping and swarming like an omen of pestilence, it moves like the changing goo in a lava lamp, flitting and flying toward the crisp, untouched garden.

Like a fog, they descend and appear to disappear among the stalks of corn. Then they rise as one and land again, pecking and burrowing their way into the soft heads of corn, plucking out the topmost kernels for their morning meal.

While the deer and varmints of the ground were deterred by the multi-level electric fence, the birds had less than little regard for the meager defenses that fended off those other would-be thieves.

It is at this point that I spy the encroaching cloud from the shop window. Enter the defender. Grabbing a shotgun, I hurry out to pepper the flock as it rises above the golden tassels. A few fall, but hundreds escape to ransack another time.

Returning to my previous tasks, I suddenly take note of the white spatters of bird droppings on various equipment behind the shop. I don’t even have to look to know it would be the same story around livestock feeders and waterers in the field.

It never takes them long to arrive in droves, and when starlings do come, they bring nothing but problems. For starters, they are crop killers. Corn is one of their favorites, I would say, since they eat the top end of every cob they land on. And since they fly in flocks of hundreds at a time, it doesn’t take long to lose a lot.

Listening to other local sweet-corn growers this year, it seems that starlings and other wildlife have been one of the biggest struggles, even with the dry weather taken into account. As I said, electric fences work for so many things, but not for birds.

Some farmers, especially in central PA, use motion sensor air guns that blast waves of air at the flocks to scare them off. Others have some luck with scarecrows or mock birds of prey, but in my experience these only last so long before the dirty little buggers get wise.

Since they spread so much disease and filth wherever they go, I’m not one to mess around. Pennsylvania only has one open season on any songbird, and that is for the starling. In fact, they are the only ones not protected. They are an invasive species, and as such they are free game for hunting.

There are few animals I’d hunt without planning to use in some way, but starlings are certainly the beginning and end of that exclusive list. They are literally good for nothing, and cause a litany of problems.

Even with the rising cost of ammunition, I’ve always had the best luck knocking a few down at a time. Driving away starlings means I have a corn crop and berries for my family to eat and to sell; it deters the remaining birds from returning as frequently—or at all.

When I think about my chickens, I’m also reminded of the avian flu, which has been a problem this past year for farmers all up and down the country as birds migrate. Starlings are a super-spreader of the virus, carrying it and spreading it wherever they defecate. At the same time, there are few if any large-scale programs aimed at managing their population.

The way out here we have to defend our hard work and the lives of the animals we care for. Just as a farmer would shoot a fox that got into the henhouse, so too must he think about the cost of allowing starlings to pass through unscathed. It’s a situation where standing idly by will cost far more than to take action.

In a world where many nuisances are defended by those who don’t understand them, it’s important to stand firm on issues like this, and do what must be done. Not with malice, but with a heart and mind on conservation and preservation.

starling, pest, invasive species, avian flu


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