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May 16, 2013

Avitrol® Bird Poison Not the Solution to Nuisance Bird Populations

Cruel and ineffective bird poison is also dangerous to other animals and people

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Poisoning pigeons is not the answer to reducing their populations. iStockphoto.com

by Maggie Brasted

Avitrol® poisoning is distressing. “Birds were just falling out of the sky. They would land, lie on the ground, flap and die,” a Staten Island resident told the New York Daily News.

A neighbor added that the birds were flying around crooked—“as if they were drunk”—before torpedoing to the ground when more than 50 common grackles plummeted to the pavement.

In Phoenix, a resident told KPHS News, “They just literally started falling from the sky. It's almost like raining dead birds,” when doves, house sparrows, pigeons, and even a protected Towhee littered her back yard. 

Metro stations in Washington, D.C., closed when the discovery of numerous dead birds raised fears of a terror attack. These reports made news while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed the compound that killed these birds, 4-aminopyridine. Products containing 4-aminopyridine (brand name Avitrol®) are commonly used by licensed pest control operators on a number of birds.

The facts on Avitrol® bird poison

  • Avitrol®, promoted as a “flock frightening agent” or “repellent,” is a nervous system toxicant. It readily kills birds, and is dangerous to mammals and other animals.
  • It causes birds who eat it to suffer convulsions, fly erratically, sometimes striking structures, vocalize repeatedly, and eventually die. 
  • The most common target birds are pigeons, house sparrows, and starlings. 
  • From 2002 to 2006, 151-175 pounds of 4-aminopyridine were sold in the U.S. each year—enough to kill more than 200 million birds each year.

Users claim that the distressed behavior of poisoned birds frightens other flock members away. But the kind of birds most often poisoned with Avitrol® do not react strongly to flockmates’ distress. In most cases, it kills a large part of the flock. And any “frightening” effect of Avitrol® on surviving birds is very short-lived, because remaining birds return quickly and reproduce. The poisoning cycle continues, making money for pest control companies.

There are many reasons to object to Avitrol®—not least of which is the cruel death it inflicts on target birds and other animals. But Avitrol® is also indiscriminate; it is dangerous to non-target animals—including pets—and to people who are accidentally exposed, especially children.

EPA should place restrictions on the use of Avitrol®

When the EPA reviewed this poison several years ago, The HSUS urged them to remove it from the market or, at a minimum, strengthen protective measures. But in 2007, the EPA determined Avitrol® could remain on the market. However, new protective restrictions on its use were supposed to to be imposed as part of that decision in the form of a new, more restrictive label.

Six years later, in 2013, the new label is still awaited. The HSUS, along with the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), strongly urged EPA to act promptly to, at a minimum, impose the restriction on Avitrol® use EPA decided on in 2007. In the meantime, pest control companies continue to poison birds with Avitrol® while the EPA indicates that a new label is in the works. EPA gives no specific date when the new label can be expected.

Humane ways to solve problems with birds

There are numerous proven humane methods to resolve conflicts with “nuisance” birds such as pigeons, ranging from a new “hatch control” contraceptive drug (OvoControl-P), which limits bird reproduction, to ways to make sites where birds congregate unwelcoming. 

What you can do to help

If you think you’ve found poisoned birds, be aware that groups of birds can die from diseases. If the birds are mainly pigeons, house sparrows, European starlings, or blackbirds in a developed area, Avitrol® poisoning may be a strong possibility. Tell-tale signs include erratic flight, tremors, and convulsions. Avitrol® is typically administered on corn kernels or pieces, so corn in the affected birds’ mouths or scattered in the area is common when birds are poisoned.  

  • Try to help any surviving birds by immediately contacting your local animal control agency, a wildlife rehabilitator, or a veterinarian. 
  • Dead birds and scattered bait should not be allowed to remain in the open where raptors and scavengers, including neighborhood dogs and cats, can be poisoned.
  • Contact local animal control about this if the property owner or manager is not removing these hazards immediately.
  • If you believe you have found a federally protected species poisoned, contact your regional USFWS enforcement office

Buildings where you work or shop, garages where you park, and other places you frequent may be poisoning birds with Avitrol®. Most poisoning is done at times (very early morning) and in places (rooftops) few people will notice.

  • Ask questions of apartment management, condo or coop boards, office facility managers, store managers, and others if you suspect that birds in your community may be targets of poisoning.
  • Politely inform any who are or may be hiring a pest control company to poison birds that you disapprove and that humane alternatives are available and effective.

Maggie Brasted is the wildlife policy associate for The Humane Society of the United States.

Updated May 2013.

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