Starling trapping program proposed to reduce cannon use

Conflict over loud bird-scare devices prompts alternative

Starlings

The war between local berry farmers and starlings is escalating, and the city is now suggesting it won’t be won without a few casualties.

Many farmers use blasting propane cannons, but they’re just as effective at disturbing neighbours as pesky birds.

Now, the city has proposed trapping and killing thousands of young starlings, similar to trapping programs in the Okanagan and in Whatcom County.

On Monday, council recommended a partnership with the berry industry in 2016, tied to $30,000 in city funding.

Starlings, an introduced pest bird from Europe, have been a scourge to local berry farmers for decades. Huge flocks of the birds, which have often displaced species native to North America, can severely damage a berry field. Some farmers fly falcons over their fields as a deterrent, and others try to scare them off by riding ATVs around their fields or putting up reflective tape.

Propane cannons and other audible bird-scare devices are the most popular solution, but they’re also a notorious nuisance to numerous residential neighbourhoods close to farms.

The city has tried to reduce the use of cannons through a bylaw, but it required provincial approval and is limited by B.C.’s Right to Farm Act. Despite the bylaw passing this year, frequent complaints about cannon misuse continue.

The Okanagan starling trapping program, jointly funded by municipalities and farming associations, costs approximately $115,000 annually. It captured nearly 50,000 starlings during the 2015 growing season. According to program manager Connie Bielert, the most common traps are essentially large pens covered in wire mesh, filled with fruit or bread as bait, with flaps that allow birds to enter but not exit.

Trappers check the traps every three days, or more often in extreme weather, and the trapped birds are euthanized by exposing them to carbon dioxide in an enclosed space.

Young starlings are trapped more often than adults because they spend more time flocking and less time nesting.

A city staff report says “such a program is not likely to reduce the total number of starlings. However, based on anecdotal evidence, it could likely decrease the number of starlings at certain times of the year, thereby potentially reducing crop damage, and more importantly, potentially reducing the reliance on propane cannons.”

As empirical data on the starling population is scarce, some Abbotsford councillors are concerned it will be difficult to judge whether the program is successful.

City clerk Bill Flitton suggested that if there is a reduction in the use of propane cannons, that would be a success.

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