The black carcasses of dead starlings still pepper the snowy roads and lawns of central New Jersey’s rural Griggstown community three days after federal officials used a pesticide to kill as many as 5,000 of the birds.
Many residents Monday were still getting over their shock from the sudden spate of deaths. Some were unaware that the deaths resulted from an intentional culling and that the pesticide used was harmless to people and pets.
“It was raining birds,” said Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine. “It got people a little anxious.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture called local police last week and the Somerset County Health Department to warn them that a culling program was under way, but there was no notice that dead birds could fall from the sky, Levine said.Carol Bannerman, a USDA spokeswoman, said a bird-specific pesticide called DRC-1339 was used to kill the starlings. It is harmless to people and other animals, she said.
Bannerman said the starlings had to be killed because they were plaguing an area farm, where they were eating feed meant for cattle and chickens and defecating in feeding bowls.
“We’re very sorry that it played out the way that it did,” Bannerman said. She said the USDA will try to do a better job of notifying the public in the future.
Federal employees dispensed the pesticide on Friday. Birds that ingest it usually die within three days, Bannerman said, so the die-off should have run its course by Monday.
The DRC-1339 pesticide is commonly used to protect farms and feedlot operations from European starlings, which are considered an invasive species by the USDA. One hundred starlings brought to the U.S. in 1890 have grown into the nation’s most numerous bird species, Bannerman said.
Humans have grown to be the nation’s most numerous primate species.