Pest repellent sickens, kills NE Bend birds

Wildlife group upset; state says assisted living facility contractor followed rules

Avitrol use is ruffling feathers

BEND, Ore. - The roof of the Prestige Senior Living High Desert facility in northeast Bend is littered with Avitrol, a bird repellent used by licensed pest control agencies.  The repellent can cause seizures to birds, often in mid-flight.  And during last week's heat wave, it even led to deaths.

"Many of the birds were found on the pavement, where temperatures were over 140 degrees," said Dr. Jeff Cooney, veterinarian with the High Desert Wildlife Rehab & Rehabilitation Center.

"Their hearts were racing, they were seizing, and they were often dying of cardiac arrest," Cooney said/

All are side-effects of the bird repellent Avitrol, sold in the form of corn kernels that birds will consume when spread across their normal feed. 

The wildlife center hired a local drone company to fly over the building to confirm that the repellent was on the roof.  The video confirmed the poison, and uncovered a dead pigeon lying on the roof.

But bird carcasses have been found in other areas as well.  When we initially reported this story on Friday night, Jeannette Bonomo of the High Desert Wildlife Center said that pigeons were found either seizing or dead near the Forum Shopping Center at Highway 20 and NE 27th Street. 

"People were literally seeing them fall out of the sky, crash onto the ground, flopping around like a typical seizure," Bonomo said.

Prestige Senior Living High Desert, an assisted living center to the north of the shopping center, declined to comment on our story, but issued a statement in response to concern and criticism. 

"At Prestige Senior Living, the health, well-being and safety of our residents is our highest priority," the statement began.

"When we assumed operation of High Desert, we saw that pigeons – after years of roosting – had accumulated a large amount of droppings near an air intake. We contracted with a licensed, professional company to manage the problem for us. We understand the approach they used conforms to applicable laws and regulations."

We contacted the Oregon Department of Agriculture to confirm the legality of using Avitrol.  Several areas, including San Francisco and the state of New York, have banned the toxic bait. However, it's currently legal in the state of Oregon to use Avitrol to deter birds from an environment. 

"We have not seen any reason to ban this product yet," said Mike Odenthal of the state agency's pesticide division.  "We suggest that people look for other ways to deter the birds, but there are some cases where this may be the only or best option that a person has to repel birds."

However, Odenthal went on to say that the repellent is not only used as a last-ditch effort. When asked if a customer could request that a pest control company use Avitrol on their premises, he said, "It's possible."

"That's to be expected when you use (Avitrol), that you are going to kill some birds," he added.

But as birds die, and others suffer seizures, those left to take care of them argue that just because it's legal doesn't mean it's right.

"Humanely euthanize them, if that's why you need to do (this), to eliminate them," Cooney said. 

"But to give them a poison where it's just out, uncontrolled -- that's a little bit extreme, in my opinion," he added.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the maker of Avitrol is changing their labels in September.  It will further limit how much of the chemical can be distributed in an area, as well as outlining monitoring requirements after the chemical has been dispersed of.

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