Birds of a Feather

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Red-Winged Blackbird (Male)

causing the other babies to starve or get pushed out of the nest.

Jeff Cantrell, a conservation education consultant with MDC and a birder, observed that cowbirds are causing a serious population decline in some of the warblers, vireos, and indigo buntings in the fragmented forest regions of Missouri.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 seems to protect all of these problem birds, except starlings (which aren't natives), unless a person has a valid permit to destroy them. Marlys Bulander, the Region 3 permit administrator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says a federal regulation specifically says a permit is not needed to control blackbirds, grackles, crows and magpies "when found committing depredation or about to commit depredations, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance" (50 CFR 21.43). The federal regulation, however, is subordinate to state regulations.

Problem birds?

If you have a problem with blackbirds and starlings, call your local health department or your area Missouri Department of Conservation office.The Conservation Department has several articles about blackbirds and blackbird control on its Web site at www.mdc.mo.gov. Search word: blackbirds. University of Missouri County Extension offices have information both online or by mail.

Missouri's Wildlife Code says that no bird may be killed, except as specifically permitted elsewhere in the rules (3 CSR 10-4.110). Elsewhere, the Wildlife Code allows a landowner, or his or her agent, to deal with nuisance birds (3 CSR 10-4.130) when they are, beyond a reasonable doubt, damaging his or her property. In that event, you must notify an agent of the Conservation Department within 24 hours of taking action.

Starlings are not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or Missouri's Wildlife Code because they are not native birds. According to Birds in Missouri, European starlings were brought to America by the American Acclimatization Society in 1890. Its mission was to have all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works introduced to North America, and a starling is mentioned in Henry IV.

Despite rules that appear to favor landowners, farmers like Larry Riley must be wary of killing any of these birds because of the danger of inadvertently killing protected species. The Fish and Wildlife Service once documented 68 species of birds found near North and South Dakota sunflower fields in the spring. Rice fields, corn fields, feedlots are probably similar. It would be difficult to avoid killing untargeted species.

Joplin's Dan Pekarek told how blackbirds and starlings used to roost in an area on the south edge of Joplin. "Now there are houses there," he said, "and there's a conflict between the birds and the residents."

People are frustrated by bird problems, but they are bound to increase as more woodland is cleared and cultivated and rural areas continue to be urbanized. Simply put, there are more of us to be bothered every year, and fewer places for the birds to roost without causing problems.

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