Trapping continues for invasive starlings
By Lyonel Doherty
Come hail or high water, farmers are determined to not let starlings ruin the fruit crop industry in the South Okanagan.
And they’ve got help from a friend – the Okanagan Similkameen Starling Control Program.
Administrator Tyrion Miskell addressed the regional district recently to update directors on how the program is doing.
She said starlings are considered an “invasive species” that have a negative impact on the environment. She noted they have a large flocking behaviour and have a tendency to force out native species.
Miskell said starlings have a negative impact on the economy, too, noting they are responsible for a 10 per cent loss (about $5 million) in grape crops every year.
She explained that starlings roost in urban/suburban areas and feed on ripening fruit. They are also prolific breeders, having up to 10 babies at a time.
Miskell outlined the program’s trapping system (using cages) that involves four trappers who work throughout the region. She said the birds are subsequently euthanized via gassing, which she noted is quite humane. They are then sold to falconers or given to raptor recovery centres.
Miskell noted that all other bird species that get caught in the traps are removed and set free.
In 2003, the starling count in the Okanagan Similkameen was 15,369. Last year it was 17,374. The total since 2003 is nearly 314,000.
In actual numbers, the program has captured a total of nearly 700,000 birds from 2003 to 2015. More than 51,000 were captured in 2016.
It is reported that the program reduces the use of propane cannons and other bird-scaring devices.
Miskell said there is a public awareness campaign that outlines the value of trapping and encourages the reduction of nesting sites on private properties.
Research shows that starlings are born and bred in the Okanagan, with 80 per cent coming from the North Okanagan/Shuswap area.
“They migrate up and down the valley with the fruit,” she said.
Miskell said they are focusing their efforts on trapping in the North Okanagan (at feedlots and dairy farms). Barns where birds roost are also target areas.
In 2016 the BC Grape Growers’ Association funded the program to the tune of $38,000, while the BC Cherry Association, BC Fruit Growers’ Association and BC Tree Fruits Cooperative each kicked in $5,000. The three regional districts in the Okanagan kicked in a combined total of $75,000.