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Pest control staff accused of killing wild birds along with feral chickens

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Sacha Bearden, the owner of Baptiste building supplies, said she was upset after wild birds dropped dead in her yard after poison was laid for feral chickens (File photograph)
Roland Hill, the owner of J&J Produce, said he loses tens of thousands of dollars worth of crops to feral chickens every year (File photograph)
Roland Hill, owner of J&J Produce, captured an image of a field of broccoli destroyed by feral chickens (File photograph)

A Government pest control worker has been accused of breaking the rules and killing wild birds as well as the target feral chickens.

A business owner said she had seen “dozens of birds dropping dead” outside of her Warwick warehouse after poison was laid for the chickens.

Sacha Bearden, the owner of Baptiste building supplies, said she saw a worker from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources drive up, put the poison on the ground and drive off without staying to make sure only feral chickens took the bait.

Ms Bearden said: “We saw birds falling dead – corpses – dozens of them. One person noticed a kiskadee dead, then there were more and more birds dropping dead in the yard.

“I looked at the CCTV cameras and the DENR van drives up – he dumps poison on the ground and didn’t supervise to make sure any pets or other birds didn’t take the poison.

“Nobody warned us it was going to happen.”

Ms Bearden added the incident happened last Monday.

A spokesman for the DENR said that its staff were required to stay on site to keep "non-target animals“ away, but admitted that sometimes other animals were killed.

He explained that a poison paste was spread on bread which was thrown to chickens in small amounts.

The spokesman added: “The officer dispensing the bread remains with the bait until the chicken has taken it all up. On occasion, non-target pest birds, such as kiskadees, sparrows, and starlings take the bread.

“Seed and insect-eating birds such as our indigenous vireo, bluebird, and catbird are not affected.”

Carlos Amaral, the president of the Bermuda Farmers Association, said feral chickens ravaged crops and were a major risk to livelihoods as well as food security and had to be controlled.

He was backed by Roland Hill, the owner of J & J Produce, who said his losses from chickens ran to tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Mr Hill added: “I recently lost an acre-and-a-half of broccoli from chickens – I probably had $7,000 to $8,000 invested in that.

“They eat everything – corn, string beans, carrots, beets, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bananas – every crop available.

“It’s an ongoing battle and it happens every day.”

Mr Hill said farmers used traps, but they could not stop all the birds from raiding fields.

He added: “We get help from the government but there is always this outcry from the public – people have to understand this is our livelihood out there in the field and food security is what we need in Bermuda.

“People don’t want them in their back yard, they dump them somewhere else and then it becomes a problem for the next person.”

Mr Hill said he understood that pest control staff had to remain on site to minimise the risk to other animals while the chickens took the bait, which is designed to sedate them before they were put down.

Ms Bearden said she understood the problems that farmers faced.

But she added: “Poison that indiscriminately kills everything is wrong and not telling the landowners when they are going to come and put down poison on their land is really wrong.

“Put traps down, go ahead. You want me to put traps down? I’ll do it. But birds falling over dead in your yard? My customers were seeing this. The birds were definitely dead.”

The DENR said it culled up to 10,000 pest birds a year.

The spokesman added live capture cages and shooting the chickens with air rifles were other methods used.

But he said: “Both are labour intensive and ineffective when managing large flocks of chickens. Further, chickens can, and do, learn to avoid the capture cages.

“An effective way for residents to manage their problem chickens is to find where the feral chickens roost during the night and remove them by hand from their perches.

“Both the DENR and farmers believe that removing them saves crops. There are many fields on the island that are too big an area for barrier fences to work.”

Mr Amaral added there were no natural predators such as foxes or coyotes to take out pest animals.

He said: “Everybody enjoys enjoy seeing a rooster and its chicks in someone else’s yard – for growers it is a significant problem.

“I have never sat down to put a monetary figure on it, but it is par for the course that we take licks from thieves, hurricanes and chickens.”

Mr Amaral added: “The department comes in, baits, waits and collects those chickens that are sedated and then culls them.

“If they didn’t do that then they have got themselves in hot water.”

The DENR was later asked if its staff member had followed the safety rules at the warehouse but did not respond by press time.

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Published November 03, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated November 03, 2021 at 7:42 am)

Pest control staff accused of killing wild birds along with feral chickens

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