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This Week's Feature

Starling Hazing

By David Tong – WCH Sharpshooter Member

The European Starling, (Sturmus vulgaris), is a medium-sized bird some 7.5 - 9.0 inches in length, with triangular wings that span about nine inches. They are highly maneuverable in flight.

In England, they are simply known as starlings and they came to North America in the early 1890s. It appears that some misguided individuals decided it would be a good idea to export all birds mentioned by Shakespeare in his plays to the New World and roughly 34 breeding pairs were released into New York.

Worldwide, there are approximately 310 million starlings, while in North America we have approximately 154 million of them. They are considered pests by most farmers or those engaged in agriculture and most states have declared them unregulated by hunting statutes or control due to sheer numbers.

I have recently taken a job hazing, or harassing/scaring starlings off some nearby wine grape vineyards. Starlings will annually do great crop damage starting in September through October, so this is no small financial matter for local businesses here in Oregon's Willamette Valley, an acclaimed grape/wine area.

This hazing is done by merely driving through the vineyards, honking the horn, walking in them and shooting a shotgun in their general direction. The idea not necessarily being to kill them, as it would be impractical to significantly reduce their numbers, but to make them think twice about eating grapes.

Starlings are birds that generally travel in large flocks and it is not uncommon to see hundreds of them in a single group. It does not take much imagination to consider how much grape destruction several of these groups can do to a vineyard.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are ripe for picking in mid-September. Starlings like to perch in groups on phone lines or on the tops of tall evergreens to get a bird\'92s eye view of the terrain to see where people are, before descending en masse to eat grapes.