OH: Cormorant cull running on Lake Erie

Wildlife authorities killed 3,500 birds this
spring

Oak Harbor, Ohio – Ohio wildlife authorities continue to cull
double crested cormorants from several Lake Erie islands, killing
more than 3,500 of the birds this spring.

The number of birds shot by DNR Division of Wildlife
sharpshooters is the third highest on record.

Under a depredation order from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, the Division of Wildlife since 2006 has been shooting
birds annually on several Lake Erie islands.

Cormorants are destructive to plants, wildlife authorities say,
because their guano kills leaves on trees that other important
birds use for nesting.

The first year of the program in 2006 resulted in the most
kills, about 5,800 birds, said Dave Sherman, a waterfowl biologist
with the Division of Wildlife and leader of the program.

The islands that have been affected are Turning Point Island
near Sandusky, Green Island, West Sister Island and island on Grand
Lake St. Marys.

“The numbers of birds had been going down on all of the islands,
but for whatever reason this was a really good production year,”
Sherman said. “The numbers of nests went up in just about every
location. It’s going to be an ongoing process,” he said.

Despite culling efforts over the past five years, the number of
cormorant nests showed a 50 percent increase on Lake Erie this
year, said Sherman.

Meanwhile, Canadian wildlife authorities are culling birds on
Lake Erie’s Middle Island. Those birds did not show an increase in
nests this year, Sherman said.

“I’d like to have seen a continuing decrease on our islands, but
we’re not going to throw up our hands and say ‘oh, well it didn’t
work,’ the biologist said. “We’re going to continue removing them
for at least the next five years.”

The goal is to cull birds on each of the islands once a year,
but efforts may have to be ramped up a bit, Sherman said.

“We did that at West Sister for the past three years and we’ve
seen the numbers increase little by little,” he said. “So, we’re
not going to be able to (shoot just once per year). It’s going to
continue to have to be a maintenance activity.”

One of the big problems, Sherman said, is that Canadian birds
continue to fill in the ranks on Ohio’s islands.

“There’s an unknown quantity of cormorants in Saskatchewan and
Manitoba,” Sherman said. “There are a lot of birds up there. As we
continue to do our maintenance activities, we are seeing some birds
that have been banded in Canada showing up on (Ohio’s)
islands.”

The only place that Canadian wildlife authorities are
controlling birds is on Middle Island.

“In interior Canada, if somebody has a problem with a cormorant
you’re allowed to shoot the cormorant,” Sherman said. “I don’t even
know if they need a permit. They’re not protected under Canada’s
Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”

Ohio has no choice but to continue its lethal control program,
Sherman said, to protect habitat for other colonial nesting birds
such as black crowned knight herons, great blue herons and great
egrets.

“We have to continue the program, or our islands will turn into
big rocks,” he said.

It was a good production year not only for cormorants but also
for other colonial nesting birds, said Sherman.

“It was just a good production year for birds in general,” he
said. “We believe we started our management program before the
habitat was severely degraded.”

The depredation order is renewed annually through the USFWS.
Under similar orders, the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, New York
and Minnesota are all culling cormorants in similar fashion.

“By far, the majority of action in the Midwest is in Michigan
and Wisconsin,” Sherman said. “Wisconsin doesn’t shoot as many but
they are oiling a lot of eggs to destroy nests. And, Michigan is
doing a lot of shooting.”

All of the control efforts in Ohio are by lethal means, Sherman
said.

“All of our nests are in trees, so we can’t access the nests
(for oiling purposes),” he said.

The goal for Ohio is to reduce the current number of cormorants
from 13,000-15,000 to about 8,000 in total.

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