Health Hazards of Bird Droppings
The information below is courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture:
Managing Vertebrate Invasive Species:
Proceedings of an International Symposium (G. W. Witmer, W. C. Pitt, K. A. Fagerstone, Eds).
USDA/APHIS/WS, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO. 2007.
Birds and Disease Transmission
Starlings and other pest birds carry a plethora of diseases (Weber 1979, Gautsch et al. 2000, Clark and McLean 2003, Table 1). Avian salmonellosis (primarily, Salmonella enterica) has been documented in starlings (Feare 1984). This disease is transmissible to humans, poultry, and livestock. Chlamydiosis (also psittacosis, ornithosis, parrot fever) usually results from inhaling Chlamydophila psittaci that lives in dried feces. Starlings and blackbirds can infect humans and domestic fowl with C. psittaci (Grimes 1978, Grimes et al. 1979, Andersen et al. 1997). Starlings also carry Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis, which causes Johne’s disease in cattle (also known as paratuberculosis) (Matthews and McDiarmid 1979, Corn et al. 2005). The bacteria are excreted in feces and milk. Johne’s disease costs the United States (US) dairy industry $200-250 million, annually (Beard et al. 2001, Ott et al. 1999). Starling fecal matter can pass transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) to swine. Although the evidence is largely indirect and circumstantial, it is believed that during the winter of 1978-1979 starlings served as vectors for an outbreak of TGE in Nebraska that caused the loss of 10,000 swine in one month (Pilchard 1965, Bohl 1975, Gough et al. 1979, Johnson and Glahn 1994). Shiga toxin- producing Escherichia coli (STEC) is another disease the may be transmitted by starlings to cattle. In the cattle industry, annual costs of illnesses related to E. coli STEC exceeded $267 million (NCBA 2004). Humans get this disease when consuming tainted food products, especially ground beef. Knowledge of the movement patterns of starlings would be critical to understanding the real role that starlings have in epidemiologies of these diseases.
By disturbing soil or flooring at blackbird and starling roosts, humans can become ill with histoplasmosis, a fungal disease of the lungs caused by Histoplasma capsulatum (DiSalvo and Johnson 1979, Storch et al. 1980). Histoplasmosis recently was reported at a manufacturing facility in Nebraska used by starlings (J. Hobbs, personal communication). People at highest risk of exposure, however, are those working in agriculture, particularly poultry, or those coming in contact with bird or bat roosts that might have been abandoned a decade or more prior to disturbance (DiSalvo and Johnson 1979). Finally, West Nile virus (WNV) was confirmed in North America in 1999 and since that time has spread across the US. This is a serious, and life-threatening disease to humans and wildlife. Sullivan et al. (2006) found that red-winged blackbirds are WNV hosts and can disperse diseases along their migratory routes. The role of starlings in dispersing WNV is unknown, but starlings can act as hosts for the virus (Bernard et al. 2001), and thus may be involved in spreading the disease among vertebrates including, humans, horses, and birds.
Economic Impacts Diseases Carried by Birds
Pimentel et al. (2000) estimated that yearly starling damage to agriculture was US$800 million, based on a figure of US$5/ha. In 1999, three feedlot operators in Kansas estimated a loss of $600,000 from bird damage alone (US Department of Agriculture 2000). Data reported in 1968 from Colorado feedlots indicated the cost of cattle rations consumed during winter by starlings was $84 per 1,000 starlings. With the current cost of feed, the associated losses would certainly be much higher. In Idaho, some livestock facility operators estimated that starlings consumed 15 to 20 tons of cattle feed per day. The costs associated with starlings in the spread of livestock disease may be more important than food consumption. For example, the 10,000 pigs lost in Nebraska might be valued at nearly US$1.0 million in today’s market.
Table 1. Information on some diseases transmissible to humans and livestock that are associated with feral domestic pigeons, European starlings, and English sparrows.
Data originally from Weber (1979) and accessed in numerous Wildlife Services’ Environmental Assessments.
Electronic Bird Control
A built in microprocessor continually randomizes the order the sounds play, the time and the relative pitch of each bird sound to give the impression many birds are in distress in the protected area. This random technology prevents the birds from becoming habituated and keeps them out of the berry patch all the way through harvest.
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