STOW CREEK TOWNSHIP — The state is performing additional tests on about 200 blackbirds that died to see whether the insecticide imidacloprid killed them.

If it did, it may mean a farmer misapplied wheat seed that came coated with the insecticide.

Wheat seed coated with imidacloprid is believed to have been used in the area around the time of the deaths, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“Imidacloprid can cause disorientation and gastrointestinal distress in blackbirds,” the DEP said in a statement Tuesday.

Several of the birds that were examined had wheat seeds in their digestive tracts, DEP said.

But the farmer would not face penalties, because coated seed is not regulated like other pesticides that are directly applied on fields and crops, according to the DEP.

Seeds treated with imidacloprid are supposed to be fully tilled into soil and any excess treated seed or spilled seed in areas accessible to wildlife should be quickly cleaned up or buried to prevent ingestion, according to DEP.

Imidacloprid is toxic to aquatic invertebrates and fish as well as birds, so coated seeds should not be applied directly to water, to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark, DEP said.

While use of the coated seed is not regulated, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said it is important that anyone using it follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

“We haven’t seen a lot of this happening,” he said, “but it’s important farmers and applicators read the label and directions and understand them.”

At least 200 mostly red-winged blackbirds died in November in the rural area near Bridgeton, and some were seen flying in a disoriented manner, DEP said.

Preliminary toxicology testing of the birds did not reveal a conclusive cause of death and ruled out other toxic compounds, including commonly used pesticides and other environmental contaminants.

Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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