Killing Methods: Poisoning


The toxicant DRC-1339 (C7H9NCL2) also called starlicide, among many other names, is a deadly avian toxin.  It causes the largest numbers of deaths by Wildlife Services every year.  In 2007, for example, WS killed over 2 million birds—mostly starlings—with DRC-1339.  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, DRC-1339 is permitted for use in poultry and livestock feedlots, buildings, fenced areas where crops are not present, wildlife refuges, gull colonies in coastal areas, and roosting sites.  Wildlife Services has used and may use it liberally in North and South Dakota in misguided attempts to protect the sunflower industry.  It poisons large numbers of blackbirds, grackles, and others. Ironically, sunflower seed is often sold as wild birdfeed to bird-watching enthusiasts.

DRC-1339 is a slow-acting and highly toxic but death takes from one to three days after ingestion.  Many birds’ bodies go unfound after poisoning events.  So most birds aren’t found and therefore are not counted by Wildlife Services, leading to the reality that the body count of birds killed is likely much higher.

This fact explains why Wildlife Services’ annual wildlife kill numbers fluctuate each year.  In 1988, Wildlife Services stated it killed 3.7 million blackbirds in nine states. In 2004, Wildlife Services killed 2.3 million starlings, but in other years claimed half of that amount—1.2 million starlings in 2007.  Researchers have indicated that Wildlife Services’ kill numbers are grossly inaccurate, and that the actual kill numbers are unknown because they’re based on models.  In short, Wildlife Services does not know nor does it count the number of species killed by DRC-1339.

Wildlife Services’ recklessness with DRC-1339 alarmed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  The FWS indicated in several biological opinions that only strychnine (a highly regulated substance) has more potency than DRC-1339; that Wildlife Services repeatedly failed to account for non-target species poisonings; and that federally-protected species such as whooping cranes and bald eagles could be harmed by DRC-1339.

DRC-1339 kills target species such as blackbirds, but also poisons other species unintentionally through two processes: 1) directly: grain-eating birds consume the toxicant and die; and 2) indirectly: avian predators or scavengers eat dead or dying birds that have been poisoned by DRC-1339.  

The list of non-target species killed by DRC-1339 includes:  savannah sparrows, killdeers, mourning doves, meadowlarks, American pipits, northern cardinals, horned larks, herring gulls, ring-necked pheasants, American robins, American tree sparrows, Canada geese, mallards, northern flickers, downy woodpeckers, dark-eyed juncos, green-winged teals, song sparrows, vesper sparrows, grasshopper sparrows, field sparrows, and rock doves.  The FWS documented in 1995 that a peregrine falcon died from secondary toxicity after eating starlings near a DRC-1339-baited site; FWS also had concerns about bald eagles succumbing to secondary poisoning.

In short, DRC-1339 causes primary and secondary death.  It kills non-target species. Yet, poisoning black birds with DRC-1339 has failed to protect sunflower crops, according to Wildlife Services’ own researchers.

The toxicant DRC-1339 is probably the most widely used poison by WS.  It kills the largest number of species overall. Wildlife Services cannot document how many birds it actually kills using DRC-1339.  People are picking up birds by the trash bag full, while numerous others go uncounted.  The agency’s own researchers indicate that models – not actual data – project how many birds they kill per year, thus this explains the huge fluctuations – by one million animals per year – that WS numerates. Despite Wildlife Services’ assurances to the contrary, WildEarth Guardians remains concerned about the potential for non-target species to be killed by this toxicant, the decline in native bird populations across the U.S., as well as secondary poison threats to wildlife and to people’s pets.