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IT’S FOR THE BIRDS! PART 1

In the first of a two-part series, Peter Lamond shares some of his past experiences in bird management and looks at how far the pest management industry has progressed.

Time has marched on and things have changed drastically in the world of pest management since I started my first job in 1975. The differences are most marked in the fields of health and safety (virtually non-existent back then), termite control and bird control. It’s no surprise that, when something goes wrong in any of those three fields (such as in the poorly measured bird netting job shown above!) there is potential for catastrophe.

Sometimes, the media expresses an inordinate interest in what has transpired and why it occurred. If there is photo footage of the disaster, then so much the better! In this article I would like to recount some bird control debacles that I was involved in or witnessed from a distance. These disasters occurred simply because the rules were broken, whether they were the label instructions, or just the rules of common sense. None would have occurred if the parties had obeyed the rules or just walked away from the job, sensing trouble looming on the horizon. However, we all know that it is virtually unheard of for ‘pesties’ to say ‘no’ to a potential lucrative return, and there is money to be made when bird jobs are done correctly.

Let’s take a trip down ‘memory lane’ and see what I can dredge up. It shouldn’t be a problem as I still have nightmares over some of these jobs!

Most were carried out using a soporific compound that literally puts warm-blooded animals to sleep when used at the correct rate. If the rate was too high, then the affected animals could die. However, affected animals recovered quickly when kept in a warm location. The beauty of this compound was that you could bait a mixed population of native and exotic birds, pick them all up, keep the native birds in a warm place until they recovered, but humanely dispatch the pest species. It appears to be a foolproof plan. What can possibly go wrong? Let’s see.

Over the fence is out!

This is one job that happened just before I began my employment with a large multinational organisation. I was made aware of it amidst the laughter emanating from my new colleagues. The way they told it was like this.

A sporting oval in an inner city suburb had a problem with pigeons defacing the stands and generally making a nuisance of themselves. The council had accepted a quote from my company for a baiting job using the aforementioned compound that put birds to sleep. After a week of pre-baiting with plain wheat, the technicians placed out piles of treated wheat. As pigeons do, they fed greedily upon the wheat and started to feel the effects after about twenty minutes. Their movements slowed and they began to recline gently on the turf.

Unfortunately, a passing truck backfired and the resulting noise woke the pigeons which then began to circle the area. Unfortunately, they once again began to succumb to the effect of the drug and plummeted to the ground over the surrounding streets.

“So, what did you do?” I asked the two technicians involved. “We bailed out!” was their reply, “Jumped in our trucks and shot through!”

‘Slaughter on the Fairways’

The above words were the headlines on page two of an afternoon paper in late 1975. This is how it all came to pass.

The Lakes Golf Course was going to host the Australian Open in a few months but there was a major hurdle. Numerous water birds were causing havoc on the greens. They were digging up the grass and subsequently making little deposits all over it. The result was that the greens had been converted into virtual pinball machines as the golf balls ricocheted off divots and droppings. Of course, this could never do for a tournament of this status so the club employed our services to remove the feathered foe after obtaining a licence from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to remove the birds. A number of technicians went there very early every morning for a week and pre-baited with a mixture of bran and pollard. The birds loved this and fed eagerly every day.

Then D-Day arrived. I was the proud new owner of a Mazda 1200cc bongo van designated as the ‘getaway car’. It was probably the slowest getaway vehicle ever as it was jammed with technicians clutching sugar bags of treated grain. The technicians were dropped off at their designated greens, placed out the bait and then hid behind a tree to observe. I too had my green but I forget what number it was now. The good thing was that the birds were keen to get stuck into their free breakfast. The bad thing was that they were hard to count and you had no idea how many birds were feeding at the other greens.

All was going to plan until a jogger ran by and spotted the comatose birds. The interfering, busybody rang the daily papers who sent out a photographer to snap some photos. By then I had made the pick-up run and we scampered back to base with the birds. However some birds had been left behind and the photographer snapped away merrily, hence the aforementioned headline.

The company spokesman explained that the birds in the photograph were not actually dead but only sleeping. I presume that the golf tournament proceeded without a hitch.

‘Mystery Bird Death Strikes Thousands!’

You guessed it, another headline, but on this occasion it was only in ‘The Manly Daily’, not a statewide publication. This episode took place a few years later in the beautiful seaside suburb of Manly. Indian mynahs were roosting all over the ledges of a multi-storey building and they were creating a hell of a mess. We very cleverly took on the job of eradicating them but couldn’t come up with a successful strategy. The local branch manager tried cutting devon luncheon meat into earthworm like shapes, dipping them into a solution of the same compound and placing them on the ledges for the birds to eat. Strangely enough they didn’t eat them, so we moved to another plan.

The company brought some Endrin down from Queensland as it was not available in NSW. (In case you don’t know, Endrin is an organochlorine that was deregistered many years ago.) It was diluted to goodness knows what strength and applied to all the ledges. The results were spectacular with hundreds of mynahs falling dead all over Manly. The local paper published the story with plenty of photos and advising the readers that the birds were being sent away for toxicological analysis (results not yet to hand). One resident was quoted as saying, “If the air pollution is doing that to the birds, just imagine what it’s doing to our children!”

Peter Lamond

Peter Lamond has over 37 years experience in the pest management industry and a wealth of knowledge on bird management and control, and pest management in general.