Wildlife Damage Management, Internet Center for


Date of this Version

November 1976


An estimated half-billion blackbirds and Starlings have been roosting in the United States each winter for many years (Meanley and Webb, 1965). Three-fourths of these birds, primarily Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula). Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater), and Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) winter in the east (lower Mississippi Valley and eastward to the Atlantic Ocean) where food and climate are apparently more attractive than in the more arid west.

In recent years, these birds have come increasingly to public notice because of appar- ent agricultural, health, aesthetic, and nuisance problems (Graham 1976). Considerable effort has been spent developing lethal agents for local control of problem roosts (Lefebvre and Seubert, 1970). This approach has met with considerable opposition (Russell, 1975; Graham, 1976). Unfortunately, little effort has been directed into ecological studies (e.g., daily habitat utilization, food habits, impact on agriculture) of the various roosting species during the winter months. Such studies are essential to: (1) document the mag- nitude of the problems, and thus, set priorities for additional research, methods develop- ment, and control programs; (2) provide the proper background information for the develop- ment of management tools that offer long-term solutions to the problem; and (3) provide the general public with factual information on blackbird and Starling roosts. Attempts have been and are being made to determine the extent of the agricultural, ecological, and health problems associated with these roosts. Once enough information is obtained, the public can be informed and management policies can be formulated and implemented. One agricultural problem associated with these roosting populations has been the pulling of sprouting wheat by the birds in late fall and winter. Although high losses have been cited in some cases (Russell, 1975), no objective documentation of the problem is available. Our purposes in this study were to: (1) determine the chronology and amount of bird damage to sprouting wheat in the foraging range of a large roosting population and (2) determine which bird species are responsible for the damage and their abundance in re- lation to other roosting species in this area.