Fish and Game spars with starlings' Alaska invasion
To most people, starlings probably look like any other bird that often flies around in large flocks — but they are not native to Alaska.
In fact, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game considers them an invasive species, and there's concern that their numbers are growing.
"They're highly intelligent and adaptable," said Fish and Game biologist Katie Christie. "They mimic other bird species, so they are fascinating; they've been very well-studied."
Starlings can not only mimic the sounds of other birds, but also the sounds of humans. Like parrots, they are capable of learning human speech.
But Christie said starlings are also bullies, particularly to birds that are native to Alaska.
"What has also been fairly well documented is they can aggressively interact with our native birds; that's definitely a concern," she said.
Starlings like to build their nests in cavities or holes. That could be a tree, a hole in a fence, or even the holes in the pipes that hold up traffic lights. If another bird is already using the space, Christie said, starlings will boot them out.
There's also concern that the birds are becoming more common in the Mat-Su,where they tend to descend on farmers' fields and eat grain or animal feed. Beyond destroying crops, Christie said the birds can pass diseases on to livestock.
"Starlings, when they congregate, can produce a large amount of droppings and those droppings contain pathogens like salmonella and E. coli [bacteria]," she said.
Christie said starlings weren't always a problem in Alaska or even in the U.S, but were introduced to the East Coast from Europe in 1890 and quickly spread. In the Anchorage area, the Alaska Audubon Society's 2018 Christmas bird count put starling numbers at 949. Christie believes those numbers are likely to grow.
Fish and Game is considering management options for the birds that could include trapping, hazing or even hunting, according to Christie.
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