Just after daybreak on Saturday and Sunday, employees at Bush Intercontinental Airport saw birds in distress mysteriously begin to drop from the sky.
“It was going around and around in circles, you know, like how somebody is drunk or dizzy,” parking lot worker Betrice Miles said of the one she saw.
Pigeons and grackles were exhibiting seizure-like behavior, and the beginnings of a slow death. Miles’ co-worker Shara Kelly shot video of one dying bird on her cell phone.
“It was right there for a long time just flipping and flipping and flipping,” Kelly said. “And I was like, why are these birds dying like that, I don’t know if it’s something that somebody fed them.”
The birds had been fed a toxic bait called Avitrol, sold in the form of corn kernels. Hundreds were poisoned and killed at the airport last weekend as part of a “bird abatement project” that animal rights groups call cruel and inhumane despite its sanction by government agencies.
United Airlines said it hired a licensed pest control contractor, in cooperation with the Houston Airport System, to distribute the Avitrol to “reduce the health and safety risks posed by birds at airport property.”
The airline called the birds “pests” in an internal company e-mail that maps out 20 different bait tray sites throughout the airport’s terminal as well as a United maintenance hangar.
Avitrol Corporation describes its product as a “chemical frightening agent” intended to flush flocks out of a given location. Birds eat grain bait treated with 4-aminopyridine, which affects their central nervous systems. Their jerky, seizure-like movements and distress cries serve to frighten the rest of the birds, causing them to leave the site.
According to Avitrol’s website, birds who ingest a small amount recover with no lasting effects. Birds that eat a lethal dose can die within an hour.
“These deaths look anything but humane,” said Dr. John Hadidian, senior scientist with the Humane Society of the United States.
Hadidian said the Humane Society recognizes bird engine strikes as a real threat. Five years ago, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger successfully landed of a U.S. Airways jet in the Hudson River, saving 155 passengers, after birds were sucked into both engines shortly after takeoff.
But the Humane Society and other animal rights groups advocate for non-lethal abatement methods. Those can range from noisemaking devices to laying down pigeon birth-control pellets to control overpopulations.
“The birds that are dying after ingesting this compound are suffering and in great distress,” Hadidian said.
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SOURCE: USA Today
Jeremy Rogalski, KHOU-TV, Houston