New plan to eradicate feral chicken problem
Government aims to eradicate the problemn of feral chickens by 2015, Minister of Public Works Michael Weeks announced today.
It is estimated there are about 30,000 feral chickens on the Island and previous attempts to control the population have not worked.
Mr Weeks said now Government has put together a new plan.
He said: "Government Departments have tried since the 1980s to control this issue by introducing a number of pilot programs, with mixed success.
"The most recent program is currently being run by the Department of Conservation Services. Started in August 2011, this programme has culled over 3,500 feral chickens using a variety of traps, nets, and traditional methods.
"Drawing on the success of this program an Integrated Pest Management Plan has been developed to control the proliferation of feral chickens with an aim to eradicate the problem by the year 2015."
The Minister's comments in full:
We are here at Spittal Pond Nature Reserve to formally recognize an issue that the island has been experiencing for many years with regards to a growing infestation of feral chickens…..and also to announce new measures the Department of Conservation Services is taking to effectively control this population.
Feral chickens are domesticated chickens that have been deliberately released or left to run wild which end up feeding and reproduce freely. In contrast, domesticated chickens, while the same species, are responsibly managed by both home owners and farmers – a practice that is encouraged by the Government.
The problem of feral chickens may seem trivial to some, however, to the many residents who are affected they are a very real nuisance. Concerns range from crowing roosters causing sleepless nights and the spreading of trash, to significant economic crop and garden damage, attacks on park users and hotel guests, destruction of threatened habitats in our nature reserves – as well as potential disease vectors for Salmonella and Bird Flu that could impact public human health.
Bermuda's feral chicken situation is not a new one. We have been experiencing it for several decades. It is believed that this problem was significantly exacerbated as a result of Hurricane Emily in 1987 when many domestic chicken coops were destroyed, thus “seeding” small populations of feral chickens throughout the island.
Since then our feral chicken population has grown significantly and they can now be found in parks, nature reserves, golf courses, open fields, hotels, waste treatment areas, housing complexes and residential areas. Basically everywhere!
To give you an idea of the extent of the infestation - it is estimated that there are over 30,000 chickens roaming throughout the island and these numbers continue to grow exponentially. To illustrate, a hen can produce a clutch of eggs every 20 weeks. A typical clutch size is eight to 15 chicks and most of these survive due to Bermuda's “generous” climate. In turn, these same chicks become fertile after 20 weeks. As a result one single hen can lead to the creation of between 64 and 198 chicks per year.
This helps to explain why an area, once cleared of chickens, seems to “magically” appear full of them several months later. Unfortunately Government officers have noticed that some inconsiderate residents have not been helping with this feral chicken issue by dumping unwanted pets into areas as well as regularly feeding them.
Feral chickens do not respect property boundaries and are constantly moving from area to area. I say this to illustrate the point that their control is not just the concern of one Government Ministry but several including the Ministries of Public Works, Environment, Planning and Infrastructure Strategy and Health.
Government Departments have tried since the 1980s to control this issue by introducing a number of pilot programs, with mixed success. The most recent program is currently being run by the Department of Conservation Services. Started in August 2011, this programme has culled over 3,500 feral chickens using a variety of traps, nets, and traditional methods. Drawing on the success of this program an Integrated Pest Management Plan has been developed to control the proliferation of feral chickens with an aim to eradicate the problem by the year 2015.
Key components of the plan include:
1. The creation of an inter-Ministerial working group which combines existing resources and coordinates the efforts of all government organizations that are mandated to control this problem;
2. Improved legislation to stop public feeding and release of chickens into the wild;
3. The use of a variety of proven techniques best suited to each situation that are efficient and humane;
4. And, finally, the creation of a public relation and awareness campaign which will seek to notify the public of areas under management and also provide information on proper care and management of domestic chickens. This information will be posted on the Conservation website at www.conservation.bm
You may ask, “Why can't we simply trap the feral chickens, test them for disease and parasites, and place them in a Government or privately operated chicken or egg-farm?” To this I can advise that our technical officers have considered a number of options with respect to harnessing this as a potential industry.
The idea of developing a chicken farm, for example, was not found to be cost effective and thought of as unfair competition to existing business. Additionally, a “seed” population of perhaps 500 chickens, made up of only the best “hen layers” and a small population of roosters would be needed to start any new farm. However, the majority of feral birds would not be suitable for breeding or egg laying. Furthermore, hens only have a relatively short laying life. This would leave a significant portion of feral chickens either unproductive or unsellable.
Similarly, our technical officers estimate there are a huge number of roosters (approx. 50% or 15,000) which would not have any use. As a result, there would be no incentive to trap the remaining large population, estimated around the 29,500 of feral chickens, freely roaming the island. In essence, to capture and test 30,000 feral chickens for consumption would simply be unrealistic and cost prohibitive.
Another idea was that of selling the feathers on the international market for use in plastics, in paper pulp or textiles. To this I have to advise we keep in mind that there is nothing special about our birds either in meat, pedigree or organic. There would be little that makes them stand out from the huge supply already in existence in the U.S. Further, export of feathers would most likely not be commercially viable given the high cost to clean, sort and bag – as well as high fuel costs to export. The export of eggs would face similar problems.
To that end, we believe that the Integrated Pest Management Plan I have just outlined is the best way forward.
However, I need to stress that in order to be successful we must have the assistance of the public.
Therefore I would urge residents to please report any infestations. This can be done on line by going to the Department of Conservation Services' website www.conservation.bm and fill out and send in the pest control request form.
Additionally, please responsibly coop your domestic chickens. We ask that they be housed in a safe structure and not left to roam off your property. Please be aware that it is an offense under the Summary of Offenses Act to allow your poultry to wander off your property – liable for a $2,880 fine.
Also, do not dump or release unwanted chickens. Please call the Department of Conservation Services at 293-2727 for assistance.
And, finally, please do not feed feral chickens in public areas.
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