Connie Bielert of the BC Grape Growers Association, along with Similkameen grower Roger Hall, addressed the regional district Environmental and Infrastructure Committee to bring them up to date on the starling control program on June 21.
The starling control program, which started as a pilot project in 2003, is now in the final year of a five year funding program involving the three regional districts of the Okanagan, each of whom contribute $25,000 per year. The agricultural community contributes $31,000 annually.
Bielert said that the program has been conducting research into starling migration, having developed a method of “fingerprinting” the birds so that their location of origin can be identified. Research has shown that winter populations increase regardless of how many birds are trapped the previous summer.
Five trappers work the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, three in the South Okanagan alone. The best locations for trapping the birds are found in feed lots and on dairy farms. (In the Lower Similkameen, a favoured trapping location is located near the turkey farm.)
Birds analyzed for their “fingerprint” have revealed the following results:
– No birds were found that derived from Washington, the North Okanagan, or Quesnel.
– Five per cent came from the Grand Forks area.
– Ten per cent were from the South Okanagan.
– Forty -five per cent came from Kelowna.
– Forty per cent were of unknown origin, meaning the location had either not been identified in matching samples or the right location hadn’t been found yet.
In 2011, 27,713 starlings were trapped in the RDOS, up from 15, 369 in 2003.
The RDOS is the only regional district involved in year round trapping activities, at a cost of $38,325 for the South Okanagan and $9,180 for the Similkameen.
The trapping program’s success can be measured by such things as the reduction in propane cannon useage during the growing season. Agriculturalists also note a decrease in bird damage to crops and a reduction in the cost of bird control measures.
Bielert assured the directors that the group would be seeking funding again next year. They continue to focus on research and trapping, in addition to attempting new intiatives involving public education, a starling awareness program to help identify nesting sites, and collaboration with other starling control groups.
Bielert also advocated bylaws that encouraged building designs that would reduce urban nesting sites, citing Kansas City and the United Kingdom as two places where such legislation has had an effect.
“Starlings are urban dwellers,” Hall informed the committee, “Their origins are in urban areas but they head to the country to eat.”
Several directors were concerned with the funding split, commenting that agriculturalists should be providing matching funding from the regional districts.It was also noted that the program provided benefits to attempts to maintain biodiversity, as the species was an extremely invasive bird that could pose a threat to other birds and species if left unchecked.