Rid-a-Bird works too well

  Rid-a-Bird, a two-man company in Wilton, Iowa, has been killing unwanted birds for over 40 years with the Environmental Protection Agency's approval. But two dead raptors in Washington have called into question the company's method of pest control.

Rid-a-Bird's product lures birds to a perch containing fenthion, a fatal nerve poison which paralyzes them. The birds foam at the mouth, tremble and collapse. In their helpless state, they sometimes attract predators, such as owls and hawks, which die after eating the poisoned birds.

That's what happened at a Weyerhaeuser paper mill near Longview, Wash. The timber giant admitted on Aug. 7 that it killed a great horned owl and a sharp-shinned hawk, both protected species. An investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed that the two raptors were indirect victims of Rid-a-Bird, because they ate poisoned starlings.

Mark Bartlett, the assistant U.S. attorney who supervised the case, said tens of thousands of unwanted starlings have moved into Weyerhaeuser's buildings, where they cover the facility and its employees with droppings. But, Bartlett said, Weyerhaeuser had problems using Rid-a-Bird in 1989 and knew it was a risk. Company spokesman Frank Mendizabal called using Rid-a-Bird a "last resort."

In a plea bargain, a federal judge put Weyerhaeuser on probation, and ordered it to research and develop safer pest-control methods.

* Emily Miller

High Country News Classifieds