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'It's absurd, it's inhumane': Dead birds found in new area in Billings

Starling found dead in Billings
Dead starlings
Two dead starlings
Posted at 9:56 PM, Mar 23, 2023

BILLINGS — After over 100 dead starling birds were found dead last week on the Billings South Side, one resident on the opposite end of the city says that she was also finding them in her yard.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is taking responsibility for the dead birds. The agency calls it an "abatement project" to reduce the number of starlings in areas where the presence of the birds could cause disease in livestock.

USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa said in an email that the USDA uses an avicide, which is a bird poison, called DRC-1339 to kill the birds.

Dead starlings

The bird killings are upsetting for Christine Pierce, who lives in a small neighborhood near Rimrock Road and Virginia Lane. She found a handful of the dead starlings in her yard last week.

“Actually, one of my dogs brought this frozen rock solid one into the house, and I had no idea what was going on,” Pierce said Thursday. “I just feel like this is something we need to know about before it happens. Not having to sift through, and dig through, and do tons of research to try to figure out what it’s even all about.”

When Pierce did her own research on the project, she was not happy with her findings. She believes the USDA shouldn't be killing the birds.

“It’s absurd, it's inhumane, it’s irresponsible. And as a community member, I don’t want to find dead birds that have been poisoned in my yard and not even be aware of what happened to them, or why they’re there,” Pierce said. “It’s a big, fat negative to our community.”

Two dead starlings

The public information officer for the city of Billings, Victoria Hill, said in an email that the city did not have any involvement in the planning or execution of the DRC-1339 treatment.

“Information on any USDA program is theirs to share. The USDA is our nation’s authority on invasive species that are detrimental to communities and the agriculture industry,” Hill said. "The USDA is a federal government agency, separate from the City of Billings, with its own policies and procedures on issuing notices, educational materials, and dissemination of information."

Espinosa said that the USDA informed the city of Billings about the project on March 6. When asked last week about why residents in the Billings area would be not notified by the USDA about the project, Espinosa said that "in this instance, local governments were notified of this abatement project and the potential that dead birds may be seen."

Espinosa also said that the avicide was used in two locations in Billings but still did not give the exact locations. MTN News has filed a public records request for more information on where the treatment was used.

Dead starling in Billings neighborhood

"We only did the abatement over the course of one day. That night, any remaining treatment was cleaned up," Espinosa said.

Amy Seaman, the director of policy and science at the Montana Audubon in Helena, was shocked when she learned about the dead birds and questions what the future holds for the projects.

“What is the long-term goal? Because another bird is going to come if there’s a food source that’s attracting that bird certainly somethings going to come back,” Seaman said.