Starlings known as ‘rats of the sky’

The loss to growers from starlings is estimated at about $4 million per year for the Okanagan-Similkameen

This shows an adult starling in non-breeding plumage; during the breeding season (March to August) the white spots are less noticeable and the bill is yellow.

As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, the Okanagan Valley is home to many invasive species, brought to North America (and ultimately here) from elsewhere, either accidentally or worse, on purpose.

One species that falls into the latter category is the European starling, first brought to New York City in the 1890s by someone who thought it would be a great idea to introduce to North America all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare.

The starlings certainly thought it was a great idea — their descendants now are found pretty well everywhere in North America except the far north. They have been placed on the list of the 100 most invasive species in the world.

In Australia where they are also a non-native invasive species they are known as “rats of the sky.”

Some people might say, so what’s the big deal — a few more robin–sized birds across the countryside is hardly a catastrophe. In actual fact, starlings are a very big deal, from several viewpoints. And unfortunately we are talking about much more than a few birds. The U.S. population of starlings is estimated at about 200 million birds, making them one of the most common birds in the U.S.A. They are equally common in the southern parts of Canada — basically anywhere that has agriculture or livestock operations has large starling populations.

Starlings are very aggressive birds and frequently displace native cavity-nesting birds, even those substantially larger. I’ve personally seen a pair of starlings drive a nesting pair of flickers out of their nest hole and take over the site for their own use. Any hole in a tree, barn, house or elsewhere that is greater than about one inch in diameter will be used by starlings. The damage to native species is hard to quantify but is certainly substantial as many studies have shown.

In the fall and winter starlings become communal and flocks can reach incredible sizes, with at least one flock in the U.S. estimated at one million birds. More commonly the flocks are in the thousands of birds to perhaps 20,000. Such vast numbers can be hazardous in many ways — at least 25 diseases are known to be transmitted by starlings and their droppings in winter roosts can accumulate up to one foot in depth — a potentially significant health hazard in urban areas. In winter especially cattle feed lots suffer significant food losses to large flocks.

Starlings also cause millions of dollars of crop damage every year — in the U.S., starling damage to crops has been estimated at between $800 million and $1 billion per year. In the Okanagan Valley, starlings mainly cause damage to grapes, cherries, peaches and apricots. The loss to growers is estimated at about $4 million per year for the Okanagan-Similkameen.

Because of this damage, a starling trapping program has been underway in the South Okanagan for a number of years. This program focuses on trapping the birds during the summer months and euthanizing them with carbon dioxide. Birds caught in the traps are first sorted through and any native birds (robins, Brewers blackbirds, etc.) are released. While this program has helped to keep the number of starlings in check, the Grape Growers Association wants to now enlist the help of the public to combat these pests.

The public can help in several ways. First, you can report any nesting sites or major roosting sites of starlings that you observe. Secondly, If you find starlings nesting on your property you can help control them by eliminating their nesting sites, and the easiest way to do that is to close up the entrance holes by closing them with wood or a wire mesh covering.

To get help with a starling problem or to report nesting sites, contact the B.C. Grape Growers Association at bcga@nethop.net or 1-877-762-4652

The next meeting of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will be held on April 25 when Bernie Fandrich, a pioneer of the white water rafting industry in Canada, will make an illustrated presentation about B.C.’s majestic Thompson River. Our meetings are held at the Penticton United Church and begin at 7 p.m. The public is welcome.

 

 

 

Bob Handfield is president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the club.

 

 

Just Posted

Video: Third annual Ellis on the Rise brings joy to community

The block party was hosted by the Downtown Penticton Association and Ellis Street business owners

More than just a playground: Busy Beans Play Café to help parents and children

Owners Kim Wade and Tracey Wiseman want to use their expertise to help struggling families

Auntie Says: Some rules for on the job

Faye Arcand is a freelance writer living in the South Okanagan

Column: Sunset industries still getting support

True leaders work for us, not the fossil fuel industry

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Severe thunderstorm watch

Environment Canada forecasts thunder, cloud and rain for one more day

VIDEO: Protesters in Penticton gather to rally against sleeping-on-sidewalk bylaw

The proposed bylaw would outlaw sitting or lying on the city’s downtown sidewalks

Nominate your favourite businesses for the Best of the South Okanagan

Join the Penticton Western News as they celebrate the Best of the South Okanagan awards

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen Bhavkiran Dhesi

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Letter: A solution for councillors against the bylaw amendments

There would appear to be a definite way to solve the problem for the councillors

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

Highway 1 closed east of Revelstoke

Highway 1 is closed east of Revelstoke near Canyon Hot Springs due… Continue reading

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

Okanagan woman celebrates 101 years young on the back of a Harley Davidson

Last Saturday Violet Madeline celebrated 101 years. A member of the Lower… Continue reading

Most Read