Federal Program Allows Killing of Half a Million Protected Migratory Birds a Year

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Brown-headed cowbird (photo: Wikipedia)

Being a bird of “conservation concern” or even the oldest bird species on the continent is not enough to avoid being slaughtered under a little-known federal program that authorizes the killing of half a million birds a year.


The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal looked into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s “depredation permit” program, which allows businesses, farmers and others to kill members of more than 300 species of migratory birds each year. The body count during a recent three-year period totaled 1.6 million birds, or just over 500,000 a year.


Two-thirds of all the birds killed were brown-headed cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and Canada geese. The rest of those killed included upland sandpipers, barn owls, wood ducks, lesser yellowlegs, snowy owls, roseate spoonbills, curlew sandpipers, red-throated loons, great blue herons, white and brown pelicans, cedar waxwings, robins, belted kingfishers, mourning doves, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, turkey vultures, mallard ducks and sandhill cranes, North America’s oldest bird species.


Some of the birds “are struggling to cope with habitat loss, climate change and other threats and are classified by the government as ‘birds of conservation concern,’” according to Reveal’s Rachael Bale and Tom Knudson. “These include upland sandpipers, lesser yellowlegs, roseate spoonbills and red-throated loons, who, because of declining populations, could be on their way to the endangered species list.”


Birds are killed under the program to protect farm fields, vineyards, air traffic, golf courses, pistachio orchards, landfills, fish farms, zoos, aquariums and other locations, according to the investigation.


Most recently, a federal judge in Portland, Ore., denied a motion to try to stop the killing of more than 10,000 double-crested cormorants in the Columbia River estuary. The Army Corps of Engineers justified the bird-kill, saying the cormorants eat millions of juvenile salmonids each year, thus endangering the annual salmon run.


Bob Sallinger, conservation director with Audubon Society of Portland, said the agencies’ own calculations have shown the planned killing could drive the western populations of double-crested cormorants below sustainable levels.


“We are very disappointed in the court’s decision,” Sallinger said in a statement May 8, according to the Chinook Observer. “For the 3,489 cormorants that are scheduled to be shot and 9,368 active nests the Corps plans to oil, destroy or starve, the losses will absolutely be irreversible.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Shot and Gassed: Thousands of Protected Birds Killed Annually (by Rachael Bale and Tom Knudson, Reveal News)

The Other Audubon: The One that Allows Golf Courses to Kill Birds (by Rachael Bale and Tom Knudson, Reveal News)

Judge Says Plan To Kill Cormorants Can Move Forward (by Katie Wilson, Chinook Observer)

Wildlife Groups Sue Corps Over Cormorants (by Katie Wilson, Chinook Observer)

What You Should Know About a Federal Migratory Bird Depredation Permit (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) (pdf)

Wildlife Services Killed more than 2.7 Million Animals Last Year (by Steve Straehley and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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