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Questions raise about shocking bird deaths in the Billings neighborhood



Billings, Montana – Residents of a Billings South Side neighborhood have been questioning the source of what initially appeared to be random fatalities after discovering dozens of dead starling birds there over the past week.

Josh Degele, who owns a residence on Washington Street, is accustomed to seeing animals on his one acre of land.

It was the same on Sunday as he observed birds landing in his yard.

Until he picked up on anything strange.

“It started Sunday night. I noticed there was quite a few that landed in the yard, and some of them just never got up and left,” Degele said Thursday.

He has discovered 27 dead starlings on his property in the last five days.

On Thursday afternoon, four were discovered.

The birds don’t always appear to be dead when Degele finds them, he claimed.

“They’re usually peaceful. Some of them just land, they’re standing on their feet. I even have some pictures of some that their beaks aren’t even down. They’re just standing dead,” he said.

The fatalities aren’t simply happening in his neighborhood. His neighbor across the street informed him that they had collected over 100 dead birds.

“You just look in front yards, you can see them under trees all over,” Degele said. “It just seems so weird, the amount out of nowhere.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims that it is not unexpected.

USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa said in an email Thursday the agency is using an avicide (a bird poison) to reduce the number of birds where “their presence may cause disease to livestock, the risk of their fecal matter contaminating livestock feed is high, and in areas where the size of the roost and the fecal matter may cause a human health and safety issue.”

Espinosa stated that they are killing the birds with a treatment known as DRC-1339, and that the places where DRC-1339 is being used are monitored beforehand to make sure only starlings are eating the chemical. Espinosa refused to divulge the Billings places where DRC-1339 is being deployed.

Espinosa also stated that “DRC-1339 works very quickly, within hours, however, dead birds may be found days afterwards due to their location” and “the dead birds do not pose a threat to humans or pets.”

Degele, however, is dubious about the scant background material provided regarding the abatement effort.

“For nobody to say anything about it, that’s just really weird,” he said. “If it drops a bird out of the air and kills it, if your cat eats it, your cat’s probably going to be at risk. Your dog’s probably at risk.”


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