American Bird Conservancy Announces Findings in Bird Feed Contamination Tests

American Goldfinches at feeder by Gary Smyl
American Goldfinches at feeder by Gary Smyle

(Washington, D.C., April 14, 2011) American Bird Conservancy (ABC) – the nation’s leading bird conservation organization – today announced the results of its study to test the safety for wild birds of bird seed. This is a small sampling of some of the seed commonly used by almost 50 million Americans who watch feed birds in their backyards. 

“The potential for birds to be unwittingly poisoned by the very people who feed them was something we felt it important to know, so we could either raise the alarm bell or put people’s mind at rest,” said Dr. Moira McKernan, Director of ABC’s Pesticides and Birds Program, the only program in the nation dedicated specifically to protecting birds from harmful pesticides.
“I am pleased to announce that laboratory analysis showed that all the tested bird seed was either free from pesticides or fell below levels that would threaten bird health.  So, in continuing to buy their favorite seed, America’s bird watchers should feel assured that their feathered friends are getting a healthy food product,” McKernan said.

According to McKernan, the ABC studies were the first of their kind, and resulted from previous, sporadic wild bird seed contamination incidents.  “We wanted to make sure that the isolated problem cases in the past, were indeed behind us, and as far as we can tell, that is the case.  The bird seed producers seem to be doing a good job of producing a safe product,” he said.

The ABC study involved samples taken from four different supply sources across the country, including WalMart, Home Depot, Lowes, and Target.  Bird seed was randomly purchased from the stores and then shipped to the California Food Safety Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, where the detailed analyses were conducted over a several-month-long process.   The studies specifically looked for harmful pesticides, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.

McKernan also announced this round of tests may not be the last. “This testing produced very positive findings, but I think it is probably in the best interests of birds that if we identify funding sources, we perform some form of periodic analysis to make sure that we can all continue to buy bird food products with peace of mind, and to ensure that people’s hard earned money is spent helping birds, and not unintentionally harming them.”

 According to studies, one in five Americans engages in bird watching, spending a total of some $36 billion dollars annually on bird seed and suet, equipment, and travel expenses.  The top five bird watching states by percentage of total population are: Montana (40%), Maine (39%), Vermont (38%), and Minnesota and Iowa (33% each).  About 20 million birders each year travel away from home to see birds, making the activity an excellent source of tourism dollars.  States with the highest percentages of out-of-state birders are:  Wyoming (73%), Alaska (55%), Hawaii (51%), Montana (47%), Vermont (47%), and New Mexico (46%).

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