Starlings can be a major problem for livestock producers in the northern Plains in the winter.
"During a year like our last one, when the weather is particularly cold and the ground is snow-covered, these birds are looking for convenient food sources," North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy specialist J.W. Schroeder says. "Unfortunately, cattle feeding areas provide these sources."
Starlings will eat livestock feed, and defecate in feed and water and on equipment and buildings.
"These problems raise concerns about economic efficiency, animal health, and equipment and building maintenance," Schroeder says. "If this winter proves to be extremely cold, it is likely that these starlings will be a problem for many dairy farms again this year."
Starlings can eat 50 percent of their bodyweight in feed a day, he adds. One thousand birds easily can consume 100 pounds of grain in a day.
The birds are abundant year-round, but they often are a problem only in the winter.
Many producers have tried using shotguns, pyrotechnics or just closing barn openings, but these methods have not proven to be very effective, according to Schroeder. Hawks are natural predators of starlings, but attracting hawks to live near the dairy farm can be problematic.
The European starling, also known as the common starling, is not native to the U.S., so producers can use lethal control measures.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers baiting services for farmers.
"This can be effective, but it has a significant cost," Schroeder says.
Another option is a pesticide called Starlicide, which is available for farmers to purchase if they have a private pesticide license. This chemical comes premixed and ready to use. Schroeder recommends that producers check with their local feed cooperative or chemical suppliers for prices and availability of the product in their area.
"Before you use this chemical, make sure that no protected birds will have access to the bait because it will kill most types of birds or fowl," Schroeder cautions. "However, the chemical does not have a significant effect on cattle or other animals around the farm."
To use Starlicide effectively, you first need to pre-bait the birds for about a week with something palatable, such as feed grain, dog food or energy pellets.
The best time to put the bait out is in the morning, when the ground is frozen or snow-covered.
"It is a good idea to notify any close neighbors of your plans so it won't come as a surprise if they find dead birds on their property," Schroeder advises.