Mass death of starlings confounds investigators

Dec 22 2011 - 7:17am

CLEARFIELD -- City employees have collected approximately 400 dead European starlings, but the reason so many birds have died is still unknown.

Four of those birds are now at a lab in Logan as specialists try to determine the cause of death.

On Monday, the day after the dead birds began showing up in Kiwanis Park, 300 N. Vine St., initial reports said that the birds had been baited for population control by a wildlife agency.

Now that information has been retracted.

"We are not sure if that (the previous report of baited birds) was the case or not," said Assistant City Manager JJ Allen. "Clearfield city is not aware of how or why so many birds died or were found dead at one of our city's many parks."

Originally, representatives from Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources said the information they had received was that the dead birds were part of a population control effort by the Department of Agriculture.

However, Mike Linnell, federal program director at Animal and Wildlife Damage Prevention Services, said they had not done any kind of bird population treatment in the Clearfield area.

Now DWR officials are backing off their initial thought.

"It is definitely still a mystery," said Justin Dolling, DWR regional supervisor. "We don't know what happened. Unfortunately, there was some speculation, and we can't say that was indeed the case."

A message left for Linnell on Wednesday was not returned.

Dolling said DWR officials have collected four of the birds and sent them to a lab in Logan. He said he hopes to have an answer as to why they died in the next few weeks.

"Sometimes it comes back that there's enough uncertainty that we don't know what caused death," Dolling said.

Dolling said it's important to remember that European starlings are not regulated nor are they a protected species.

"You can harvest, kill or do whatever you need to do (to European starlings) to protect your property and crops," Dolling said.

However, Dolling said he does not think local farmers would have poisoned the birds, because there are several other bird species in the area that look like European starlings that are protected.

"We understand that from time to time, wildlife agencies need to control populations of certain species of birds," Allen said. "We have no role in the population control of the European starling or of any other birds. That is not something that is under our city's jurisdiction."

Allen said the city will continue to clean up any dead birds found, to keep the parks up to maintenance standards.

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