Posted by Roger Lederer   @   20 February 2012 1 comments

          In 1959 Tom Lehrer recorded his
notorious “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”
song. I hope no one does that intentionally but many birds do die each year from
ingesting toxins.

4463-ca condor.jpg

 A recent study indicates that
two-thirds of California Condor fatalities result from ingesting lead shot from
the ground or as part of the carrion they ate. In the condors’ range in
California, lead shot is banned but around the Grand Canyon, lead shot is the
leading cause of their death. Although lead shot poisoning of waterfowl was
discovered in 1880, it wasn’t until 1991 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service banned it for hunting waterfowl. But lead shot is still around and 2700
Trumpeter Swans died from eating it in northern Washington State and British
Columbia over the past decade.

            According to the Cornell Laboratory
of Ornithology, at least seven million birds a year are killed by pesticides. The USFWS states that “birds exposed to
lawn chemicals may exhibit symptoms including shivering, excessive salivating,
grand mal seizures, wild flapping and even screeching.”
When I was
working people brought me sick birds exhibiting these systems, especially in
the spring when pesticides are most often applied. It is easy to blame ranchers
and farmers, but homeowners are more responsible than they might imagine. The
average homeowner applies ten times as much pesticide as is necessary to
control household and lawn pests. Is it really necessary to spray for spiders
and ants or earwigs? (I used to have a neighbor who sprayed every individual
weed in his yard with a large tank of herbicide strapped to his back. He just
didn’t want to bend over to pluck the green offenders.)


         Poisons are used both legally and illegally to kill rodents
and predators such as
 coyotes. Unsuspecting birds either eat the bait or the
carcass of the dead predator; 
756 Bald Eagles died this way last year,
accounting for 36 percent of all eagle deaths (in second place with 22 percent of
fatalities was shooting.)

The most famous real bird poisoning and a
fictional story were morphed into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963. The Birds was based on a 1952 short
story by Daphne du Maurier. Supposedly, Ms. du Maurier got the idea of birds
attacking in a frenzy after she observed a farmer plowing his field with gulls
harassing him. In her story, lots of birds of different species went on a
rampage. As Hitchcock was planning the film he read in the Santa Cruz Sentinel
about Sooty Shearwaters acting crazy. The birds flew all over town,
regurgitated fish, ran into buildings and lamp posts and died in the streets.
There have been many more incidents like this although not nearly as famous.
Recent evidence reveals the cause: diatoms, a kind of algae with a silicon
shell, produce a toxin called domoic acid, which can cause confusion,
disorientation, seizures and death. As it moves up the food chain it
concentrates in fish which are then eaten by birds.





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May 7, 2012
9:48 am
#1 Santa Cruz, Hitchcock, thanks for story :

thank you for the anecdote about Hitchcock and story from SC Sentinel. I lived in Santa Cruz for a number of years and never heard that story before.

I knew Hitchcock had a home in Scotts Valley and that it was the green one on the left as you approached Santa’s Village on Hwy 17.

Once upon a time Santa Cruz was significant fishing port as was Monterey.

Now, sadly, they are both enclaves for makers of the “virtual” world.

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