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Update: Cumberland County Blackbird Mortality


January 4, 2017

The NJDEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife and NJDEP Bureau of Pesticide Compliance and Enforcement have been investigating the mortality of at least 200 blackbirds in November in a rural area near Bridgeton, Cumberland County. Dead birds on the ground as well as birds flying in a disoriented manner were observed. Most were red-winged blackbirds.

Preliminary toxicology testing of the birds did not reveal a conclusive cause of death. Testing capable of detecting a large number of toxic compounds including commonly used pesticides and other environmental contaminants was performed, but no organic chemical compounds were detected.

The mortality pattern of the birds and the small area impacted suggested that pesticide poisoning was a possible cause. The presence of newly spread wheat seed in the area of the mortality suggested this may have been a factor in the mortality. Several of the birds that were examined had wheat seeds in their digestive tracts.

Information from the label of the wheat seed that was used in the area indicated that it contained imidacloprid, an insecticide used in seed coatings. Imidacloprid can cause disorientation and gastrointestinal distress in blackbirds. Further follow-up testing is being performed to specifically determine if imidacloprid was present in the birds.

Seeds treated with imidacloprid insecticide are toxic to aquatic invertebrates, fish and birds and should not be applied directly to water, to areas where surface water is present, or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark. Treated seeds should be fully tilled into soil. Any treated seed that is not tilled into the soil and has been spilled in areas accessible to wildlife should be promptly cleaned up or buried to prevent ingestion.

Federal law only requires regulation of pesticides that are applied directly to an agricultural field but do not apply to seed coated with pesticides. However, like all products that contain hazardous or toxic substances, applicators should carefully follow all use and disposal instructions from the manufacturer.

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Last Updated: January 4, 2017