Birds dropping like … birds

A dead grackle lies on Pile Street as traffic rolls by Wednesday afternoon near the corner of 10th Street. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A significant number of birds in Clovis have been reported dead, according to Clovis animal control officers. However, officials said the sudden reports of dead grackles, a bird similar in appearance to the blackbird with a longer tail, should not cause alarm.

About 13 grackles were found dead in a Clovis yard this week, according to Clovis Animal Control Supervisor Louisa Maestas. The call was the second Maestas received this week from Curry County citizens reporting large numbers of dead grackles.

City Manager Joe Thomas said the majority of dead birds were found around the 14th and Main Street area. According to City Code Compliance Officer Marcus Brice, other grackles were found dead on Pile and Sheldon street.

“They could be dying from natural causes,” Brice said. “Grackles are big grain eaters and farmers could be putting out poison. But there is no way of finding out for sure.”

Brice, who works in the Clovis vector control office, said it would be difficult for his department to pinpoint the cause of the deaths, since they do not have the equipment to test the birds. The state ceased testing birds once the West Nile virus was confirmed to exist in New Mexico, Brice said.

He and other animal control officials advised residents to avoid touching the dead birds and to dispose of those in yards via dumpsters using gloves, tongs or other precautionary tools.

The birds, which are urban dwellers, populate the eastern portion of the United States in larger concentrations than the west, and their population trails off toward the West Coast, according to one Web site.

State agriculture and health department officials said grackle deaths have not been reported in significant numbers across the state, and confirmed that the state no longer provides free testing.

A state epidemiologist who works for the health department, Paul Ettestad, said poisoning was the most likely cause of the deaths.
He said the state monitors West Nile virus in April and May, and the mosquito born virus does not usually show up until June or July.

“We don’t investigate bird deaths often. A lot of time people poison (grackles),” Ettestad said.