Dozens of dying birds fell from the sky above Millville, New Jersey, this week. Health officials say the incident was caused by the use of an EPA-approved pesticide on a nearby farm.
Millville residents found about 80 birds of different species dead on the ground Tuesday,
The pesticide that was used is Avitrol, a poison designed to control birds, which cause significant damage to food crops. The poison is supposed to be used on limited areas of crops, to kill a few birds and so alert or scare away the rest of the flock.
Wildlife experts warn that this is just a small example of the damage caused by pesticides.
Pesticides kill millions of birds every year, but incidents where many birds die all at once are very rare, according to Gavin Shire of the American Bird Conservancy, an organization dedicated to protecting native birds and their habitats.
Usually, he says, birds fly away, get sick, hide, and die in scattered places, which makes it difficult to measure the impact of pesticide use:
“Generally, the birds we actually see dying represent the very, very smallest tip of what is most likely a very large iceberg,” Shire said.
Monoculture — growing large amounts of the same crop in the same area — is part of the problem, Shire said. Birds are attracted to certain food crops and these large fields act like magnets, where birds feast and potentially get too-high a dose of certain pesticides, he explained.
Shire says toxins in pesticides also affect the birds’ ability to breed.