Who or what is killing birds in Utica’s downtown?
That is the question Matthew Perry, a Utica Peregrine Falcon Project founder, and others are trying to answer after members of the group found around 20 dead pigeons and other birds over the weekend.
“We’ve found several of the birds to have corn in their throats and in their bills and around their bodies,” Perry said Monday. “That is consistent with one of the pesticides that’s commonly used by licensed applicators and by people that have permission to use them in an area.”
That pesticide, Perry said, could be Avitrol, a poison used for nuisance pigeons and spread on whole corn.
But Perry warned it is too early to know exactly what is going on.
“We have to be really careful in what we’re saying here because we’re not absolutely positive that’s what’s happening,” he said. “It’s suggested by the way we’re finding these birds and the fact that no one seems to be reporting similar things across the area. In some cases it could be impact deaths. We might be finding birds that have smashed against windows.”
If it is Avitrol, Perry said the public should be careful if it comes across a dead bird downtown. He stressed that people should not handle the bird and that they should not pick any kernels without gloves.
The issue appears to have been going on for about three weeks, but now seems heightened, Perry said. Dead birds have been found from roughly Lafayette Street to Bank Place.
“Some people have reported around the city that they see these birds acting disoriented,” he said. “They’re hitting windows. So we’re really concerned that we might be too late.”
Deborah Saltis, a member of the Peregrine Falcon Project, spent part of her lunch break Monday looking for any downed or dead pigeons in the Hopper Street area.
She said of the roughly 20 birds found over the weekend, 18 were pigeons. Of those, 10 were found in the Hopper Street area and eight were found in other downtown locations.
“(Hopper Street) is one of the areas we found the most over the weekend, so I was rechecking it,” Saltis said. “There’s definitely something going on. Whether it’s inadvertent or on purpose, I don’t know.”
Another call came in early Monday, afternoon about half an hour after she first spoke to the O-D. That bird was found on Columbia Street, near the former Norm Seakan television and appliance store.
The state Department of Conservation has had cases referred to them, Perry said, and possibly the Oneida County Health Department. Some of the dead birds have already been dropped off at the DEC and are expected to be checked out by a pathologist and the corn samples tested, he said.
The DEC received reports last week of a number of dead pigeons spotted in the Utica area, said the DEC. On Friday, a wildlife technician secured four dead pigeons and they were sent to the department’s Wildlife Health Unit at the WildlifeResourcesCenter in Delmar, N.Y. for testing.
There was no timeline given for test results, the DEC said.
Melanie Adams with the county’s health department said that she had not been notified so she couldn’t say if the health department had been notified. If something was brought to the department’s attention, then they would notify the DEC.
There also is concern for how the city’s pair of peregrine falcons, who rely on pigeons and other birds as a main source of food, could be impacted, Perry said.
The falcons are “probably the best kind of pigeon control you can ever imagine,” he said, and can take more than 300 pigeons a year on average.
“We might not have the smoking gun for a while and this being a holiday weekend, I’m concerned that the first sign that there’s a problem might be a dead Peregrine,” he said. “That’s not what I would like to see.”
The Utica Peregrine Falcon Project was founded in 2012. The group has installed a nesting box outside of the 15th floor of the downtown AdirondackBankBuilding.
“Peregrine falcons only recently bounced back from the brink of extinction due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT,” Perry said. “The species’ resurgence has been a testament to their own resilience as well as to the dedication of our society to be better stewards of the environment and to place a value on maintaining healthy, natural ecosystems.”
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