Pesticides and Herbicides

Pesticides harm birds as well as pests

Pesticide Free Zone

“Cutting down on your use of pesticides both indoors and outdoors can also help the cause of bird conservation. Five billion pounds of pesticides are applied worldwide annually, with about 10 percent of that in the United States. The American Bird Conservancy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have documented more than 2,500 incidents of bird kills attributed to pesticide use. Most of those cases involved pesticides that were used legally and according to label instructions. Unfortunately, all but the largest-scale bird kills go unnoticed by people, including home-owners, because for the most part we are not actively looking for dead birds. Birds often hide when they are sick, their small size makes them hard to find, and scavenging predators remove most carcasses within 24 hours.”1

Pesticide exposure can often harm birds without killing them. Sublethal effects include the following:

  • Disorientation during migration
  • Reduced ability to maintain weight
  • Impaired territory defense
  • Decreased ability to avoid predators, and reduced care of young

D-Con®, rats, and raptors

Do you use rat poison to control rats and mice? After noticing an increase in raptor deaths, including the mate of famous Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk in New York City, scientists confirmed that many of them had died from eating poisoned rats. The poison used in D-Con® and other products is called a second-generation coagulant product. It does not immediately kill the rat or mouse; instead, they become very thirsty and seek water before they die. Usually, this means leaving the house to venture outside, where, in their disoriented state, they become fair game to hawks, owls, and other predators. Since Barn Owls and other raptors can consume hundreds of mice or rats during the nesting season, they can build up lethal concentrations of the rodenticide in their tissues. They experience the same symptoms of thirst and disorientation, and eventually die. With more raptors dying, there are fewer constraints on the rodent population.

Perhaps it's time to dust off that old spring-style mouse trap, or better yet, block rodent access to food on your property. If you own a dog or cat, simply bringing pet food dishes in each night can make a big difference. If you put out bird seed, see if a lot is remaining on the ground under the feeder at the end of the day. Try adjusting the amount of seed you put out in the morning until the birds “clean their plate” and finish it by dark.

Pesticides often kill non-selectively. As a result, beneficial, nontarget insects that are key food sources for birds may also be killed.

Other Things You Can Do

Plant more native trees and shrubs. They provide excellent bird habitat and oftentimes require little or no pesticide treatments.

Where possible, purchase foods grown organically—particularly corn, alfalfa, wheat, and potatoes, all of which are often grown using large amounts of pesticides that can be harmful to birds. Remember that supermarkets respond to consumer demand.

Avoid buying non-organic foods from Central and South America until pesticide use in these countries is changed. More pesticides are used per acre for bananas than for just about any other crop, and residues of more than 50 pesticides are allowed on imported bananas. Organic bananas are widely available.

Rather than spraying your yard with pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes, concentrate instead on eliminating places where mosquitoes can breed. These include unused plant pots, car tires, wheelbarrows, and even small puddles.

Change your birdbath water every three days, and if you have a fishpond, treat it with an organic larvicide to kill the mosquito larvae.

Be a model for your community and buy a Pesticide-free lawn sign from Beyond Pesticides:

1 From BirdWatcher’s Digest

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