[Updated w/SPCA response] The Department of Conservation Services has culled over 7,250 feral chickens to date, they said today in response to comments from the SPCA about birds and cats being poisoned due to the chicken culling programme.

A statement from the Department said, “While difficult, the management of feral chickens is absolutely necessary. Feral chickens are causing significant damage to farmers’ crops and threatened habitats. They are also a constant source of nuisance to many home-owners and institutions, as well as a potential health risk for carrying viruses such as salmonella.

“To date the Department of Conservation Services has received 103 requests for assistance from residences, schools, charities, senior housing and public agencies.

“The Department strives to manage this problem as humanely as possible by targeting only feral chickens and when using a sedative bait [not poison as stated in the SPCA press release], as a last recourse, hand feeding under supervision. The sedative is used when trapping has proven unsuccessful or not feasible.

“The sedative [alpha-chloralose] is fast-acting, painless and any bird who consumes it has a high percentage change of recovery, dependent on the amount eaten. It is also bird-specific and not very effective on mammals. Bread is purposefully chosen as the bait as it is unlikely to be consumed by threatened species such as Blue Birds.

“The culling process is a two-step process. The sedative bait stupefies the birds so they may be easily caught and then they are euthanized using accepted humane methods. If a bird is unintentionally sedated it has a good chance of a full recovery if kept warm and in a well-ventilated dark box

“Every effort is made to remove all bait prior to leaving the site. Furthermore, contact is made with land owners prior to any baiting procedures.

“In developing Conservation Services’ management strategy consideration was given to using feral chickens as food but rejected due to the poor quality of the meat, unknown food sources and high processing cost compared to that of store bought chicken.

“Additionally, the idea of developing a chicken farm was also not found to be cost-effective and that 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, it is estimated there are a huge number of roosters (approx. 50% or 15,000) which would not have any use.

“Another idea was that of selling the feathers on the international market for use in plastics, in paper pulp or textiles. However, the export of feathers would most likely not be commercially viable given the high cost to clean, sort and bag the feathers – as well as high fuel costs to export. The export of eggs would face similar problems.

“To date the Department has culled over 7,250 feral chickens with a minimum impact on non-targeted bird species and mammals. The Department regrets this incident and will review its baiting procedures to minimize the possibility of future events.

“The government would like to continue to encourage the Public to keep domesticated chickens but wishes to restate that they must be responsibly kept in a coop as it is an offense under the Summary Offenses Act 1926 to allow poultry to wander off your property. To put in a pest bird control request please visit www.conservation.bm.”

Last summer Government estimated that there are over 30,000 feral chickens roaming the island, a number which they said was continuing to grow.

Update: A SPCA spokesperson said, ““Whilst I understand why Conservation Services would want to avoid the use of the word ‘poison’ by telling the general public that they are only sedating the birds this gives the impression that the SPCA are incorrect in our investigation.

“Alpha-Chloralose is a well -known pest control product in Europe where it is used for mouse and pigeon control. In small doses and in larger animals and birds there may be a chance of recovery but in high doses and in smaller birds ingestion is fatal. It is marketed as a pest control poison product not an animal sedative”.

They also provided links — such as this one from the Australian Government — which described alpha-chloralose as a “poison.”

By Bernews