Wildlife Officials Poisoning Gulls

THIS WEEKEND, seagulls on an island near Cape Cod are being fed poisonous bread because the gulls are preying on endangered birds.

BOSTON - Federal officials yesterday began slipping poison into the nests of thousands of seagulls threatening the homes of endangered bird species on an island off Cape Cod.

Poisonous margarine-on-white-bread sandwiches were planted in the nests of roughly 5,700 breeding great black-backed and herring gulls on Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, near Chatham.

Animal activists who lost a court appeal of the poisonings Friday delivered antidotes of tuna-and-charcoal-filter sandwiches overnight to 1,200 nests.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the gulls are slowly destroying the endangered piping plover by pushing them out of their nesting areas and eating their chicks.

Only 14 nesting pairs of piping plovers were at the refuge last year, compared with more than 900 in 1966. No gulls existed on the island before 1961, and now they number in the tens of thousands, wildlife officials say.

The territorial gulls also prey on terns, laughing gulls and American black ducks.

The poisonings began yesterday after a federal appeals court rejected an appeal by animal activists. About 40 protesters and observers watched as agriculture workers spread the poisonous mixture onto 140 loaves of white bread and cut it into tiny cubes to feed to the birds.

The avian poison - also known as DRC 1339 - destroys internal organs and kills the birds within three days, officials said. The birds get thirsty and lethargic, and usually head to their nests to die.

John Pulawski of North Truro would not identify the protesters who delivered the neutralizing tuna-and-charcoal sandwiches, saying many had received threatening phone calls.

Federal officials emphasized that their plan posed no health hazards to humans or other animals.

The nests were to be poisoned yesterday and today. Officials then planned two days of pickups and burials of the dead gulls at the refuge, two more days of poisonings and two more burial days. If successful, the plan will be repeated.