Dealing with Invasive Birds

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To the amateur, birds are grouped simply – big, small, brown, black. Many people don’t realize that some birds in North America are newcomers, and fewer people understand the amount of problems these invasive species have caused. Three problematic invaders in North America are the European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), and the feral pigeon or Rock Dove (Columbia livia). These birds have become such a scourge within the U.S. that they have the dubious honor of being the only three species that are denied protection under the Migratory Bird Act, which normally prohibits the hunting of birds outside designated seasons.

European Starling

Starlings can be identified from afar just by listening. This species is gregarious in every sense of the word. Individuals gather in huge flocks and advertise their presence with continuous, screeching calls. The birds themselves are distinctive, with glossy black feathers dappled with white spots on their breast, and bright yellow beaks. Starlings are aggressive and find strength in numbers, and often outcompete other birds for food. Steadfast cavity nesters, they battle for nest cavities with woodpeckers and purple martins. To help reduce the starling population, many birders use several techniques. First, reducing the entrance holes in nest boxes to less than 1½ inches will prevent starlings from nesting in them. Second, starlings dislike nyger and safflower seeds, so stocking your feeder with these will reduce visits by starlings. Third, a more direct way of reducing the population is to employ a baited trap, but this requires the homeowner to dispatch the live bird, which is why this technique is not as popular as others.

House Sparrow

House sparrows, not to be confused with House finches, which are similarly-sized but bright red, are native to Europe. These birds are known to kill songbirds and take over a nest, and in the eastern U.S. they have contributed to the decline of the Eastern Bluebird. These sparrows are ubiquitous, and the population reduction techniques used for other birds often do not work for this species. House sparrows will eat almost any kind of seed, and are small enough to fit into almost any birdhouse. Traps, like those used to control starlings, will work, but must be carefully monitored to prevent other small birds from becoming the victim.

Feral Pigeon

Pigeons have become widespread in North America because of their compatibility with urban environments. In Europe, pigeons nest on high, rocky cliffs, and the skyscrapers of U.S. cities are a fitting substitute. Pigeons are highly adaptable and will eat almost anything, which has allowed them to become the most numerous urban bird. Fortunately, pigeons are not as reliant on backyard feeders as starlings or House sparrows, but if they find your yard to be appealing, there is little you can do. Many commercial devices exist to prevent pigeons from roosting, including nets, spikes, and electrical “birdwire.”


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