The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Poison killed birds on golf course
Pest-control substance Avitrol regulated by Health Canada
Used by airports to deter gulls, it's also poisonous to humans

October 5, 2005
By Jessica Leeder
Staff reporter, The Toronto Star

The death of nearly 40 birds found in the east end last month was caused by the misuse of a toxic pest-control substance, test results released yesterday show.

The poison, Avitrol, is highly regulated by Health Canada and can only be administered under government supervision or by licensed pest-control operators. It's used to deter pest birds, including pigeons, sparrows and grackles, from roosting and nesting. Airports use the product to ward off gulls.

"It's intended to make a few of the birds in the flock sick," said Nathalie Karvonen, executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre. "They're supposed to thrash around and ... scare off the other birds. In this case, it was applied in a much higher dosage. It just killed the birds."

Forty-one birds 39 grackles, also known as blackbirds, and two pigeons were found dead or dying on the grounds of Dentonia Park Golf Course near Victoria Park and Danforth Aves. and at the nearby playground of Crescent Town Elementary School. Rescuers managed to save five of the ill birds.

The birds were sent for testing to the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre in Guelph where, after conducting autopsies on seven, pathologist Doug Campbell identified the poison as Avitrol.

Warning labels on the product state "by limiting the amount of bait available to relatively few birds, the remainder of the flock can be frightened away ... with a minimum of mortality." Avitrol can also be poisonous to livestock, pets and humans.

Officials have yet to identify the source of the poison. But there have been no subsequent reports of sick birds.

"It's hard to know whether it was accidental or intentional," Karvonen said.

A spokeswoman for the Toronto Community Housing Corp. said Avitrol has not been used on city buildings in the area where the birds were found. Marilyn Bolton, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Transit Commission, confirmed Avitrol has not been used to deter pigeons from roosting on TTC property bordering Dentonia Park. Golf course officials did not return a call for comment.

Jen Powroz, spokeswoman for Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, said even properly licensed commercial operators could still be using the product incorrectly.

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