British Columbia

'Trap and kill' starlings program approved in Abbotsford

The City of Abbotsford is going ahead with a trap and kill program aimed at stopping thousands of starlings that descend on Fraser Valley berry farms, devastating crops.

Okanagan farmer Rod King says similar program has done wonders for his farm since 2003

European starlings were first brought to North America in 1890 by Shakespeare enthusiast Eugene Schieffelin who released 60 starlings into New York City's Central Park. According to the New York Times, Schieffelin was attempting to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare's works to North America. Now, they are considered a pest species by B.C. farmers. (Royal BC Museum)

The City of Abbotsford has approved a trap and kill program for invasive European starlings in order to protect local berry crops.

Currently, starlings are driven away by the sound of propane cannons, but many residents say the booming sound is as invasive as the birds themselves.

Council approved a trap and kill program as an alternative at their Dec. 14 meeting, to be operated by the blueberry industry with $30,000 in funding from the City.

Coun. Patricia Ross told CBC that while the details are yet to be worked out, the decision to go ahead with the program was influenced by the success of a similar program in the Okanagan operating since 2003.

In the Okanagan, mesh wire pens are set up with fruit and bread as bait. Once trapped, the birds are euthanized with carbon dioxide gas in an enclosed space.

"Because it's successful somewhere else doesn't mean it will be here, but we believe it's at least worth investigating," Ross said.

"We'd love it if we could find something that works. I don't think this is going to be the silver bullet, ... but I think it's going to go a long way to fixing the problem."

Rod King, owner of King Family Farms in Penticton, raved about the effectiveness of the Okanagan program on The Early Edition.

"It's incredible," King told guest host Stephen Quinn. He says that before the program was put in place, he was spending $4,000 to $5,000 every year on starling management.

"In the last couple of years, I can honestly say we've spent zero."

European starlings were first brought to North America in 1890 by Shakespeare enthusiast Eugene Schieffelin who released 60 starlings into New York City's Central Park.

According to the New York Times, Schieffelin was attempting to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare's works to North America.

Now, they are considered a pest species by B.C. farmers.

King says that a flock of starlings can "devastate" a vineyard and even if the birds don't eat all of the fruit, they can spread infections between plants.

Abbotsford farmer prefers hawks

But Abbotsford farmer Arina Onnink, owner of Onnink's Blueberry Farm says she doesn't want to see a similar system come to Fraser Valley farms.

"We actually have no problems with the birds. We have a hawk family on our farm and they will chase the birds away," she said. "It's the perfect way that nature looks after itself. I'm against cannons and against killing the birds."

She called the hawks "100 per cent effective" at driving away starlings, but admits that she's in the minority among Abbotsford farmers, as most use propane cannons.

Onnink also said that despite being an invasive species, the starlings offer some benefits to farmers, such as eating weevils and beetles in the soil.

She worries about unforeseen side effects of removing the starlings from the ecosystem, but King says Okanagan farmers have seen no negative impacts since starting their trap and kill program.

Coun. Ross says that council hopes the program will be up and running "as soon as possible." The program is set to run for one year and will then be re-evaluated.


To hear the full interview, click on the audio labelled: 'Trap and kill' program for starlings could come to Abbotsford

With files from Liam Britten

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