By simply looking at recent cull statistics, one could easily presume there'd hardly be any starlings left in the Okanagan-Similkameen.
Since 2003, more than 442,000 of the pesky, crop-damaging birds have been trapped and euthanized in the Valley, including 78,360 in 2011 alone.
However, starlings are an intelligent and prolific species, says Greg Norton, spokesman for the Okanagan Similkameen starling control program.
Norton told Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen directors while the program has shown impressive results, constant effort is required to keep the population under control.
Each of the three regional districts in the Valley is being asked to contribute $25,000 towards the average $115,000 cost of the starling control program in 2013. B.C. grape, cherry and fruit grower organizations account for the remainder of the funding.
The program is managed by the B.C. Grapegrowers' Association. Four contracted bird trappers are hired, including two in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, and one each in the Central and North Okanagan.
Among the positive results, there has been a marked decrease in the use of "bird bangers" in orchards and vineyards in recent years.
Norton said organizations such as the SPCA and the Canadian Wildlife Service have monitored the trapping methods and found them to be totally acceptable. Non-targeted species are released.
“The starling is a really aggressive player. They will lay eggs in other species’ nests and have them rear their young,” he said.
Studies have shown that thousands of starlings also fly into the Okanagan from elsewhere. Isotope analyses conducted at UBC-Okanagan determined that 20 per cent of birds sampled originated from the Quesnel area.
Starlings will often fly more than 50 kilometres from their roosting to feeding sites. They can have up to three broods a year, with four to five eggs in a brood Ð averaging eight offspring per year.
It's estimated the overall crop loss to growers amounts to more than $3 million a year in the Okanagan.
Norton said a public awareness campaign is also being launched to increase public support in eliminating nesting sites.
"That is targeted for the urban centres, for folks that have nesting starlings in a shed at the back or in an old abandoned building," he said.
Norton noted even in newer buildings can become a starling magnet. Five nesting sites were recently discovered in the Penticton Wine Centre building.
RDOS directors confirmed their support for the control program, noting $25,000 has already been allocated in the 2013 budget.
"Starlings are also very damaging to songbirds," noted Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino. "It's not nearly pitched enough, I think, to urban population. It absolutely shocks me that people don't realize that our songbirds are gone Ð very much of that is due to starlings."
European starlings are listed as one of the most invasive species. There were introduced to North America in 1890 and 1891 when 100 of the birds were released in New York CityÍs Central Park by an industrialist who wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned in works by William Shakespeare to this continent.