The Bird and the Bug

This weekend I had a very frightening event happen at our home… thankfully with a very happy ending. I want to tell you that story to serve as a warning.

The tail-end of last week, an email was sent out from our homeowner’s association spraying would take place in an effort to try and kill as many spotted lanternflies as possible in the woods behind our building. On Friday evening a neighbor told me she saw a dead bird along the tree line and I immediately thought of the spraying that took place the previous day.

Spotted Lanternflies on a tree trunk (Source: NJ Department of Agriculture)

Sunday morning a young woodpecker flew into our building and fell with a hard thump on our deck. I ran out to find this tiny little bird on its back, its leg twitching. I quickly grabbed gloves and found a small box. I very carefully turned it upright, placed it in the box in the shade and kept it partially closed. I called Animal Control to review the steps I had taken and she confirmed I followed proper protocol. She said to let it be, as it could be quite awhile for it to come around if the hit was as hard as I suspected.

My husband and I regularly checked on it for hours. I called our town’s Animal Control Officer again and she thought by now it might need to be go to a rehabber, so she wanted to swing by and take a look at the bird and see what might be our next steps.

I picked up the box and went downstairs to wait outside. She quickly arrived to examine our little feathered friend. She carefully opened the box and began to examine the bird. Shockingly, he started to come around, hopped to her hand and flew away! We were both shocked! And thankful!

I am very grateful to Susan at Animal Control for her guidance and care. She told me it was her third bird call just that morning. My call, thankfully, had a happy ending. One, she was still monitoring, but looked promising. The third was on its way to a rehab facility and did not look good. The suspected issue with all three? Spraying for spotted lantern flies.

These bugs are an invasive species leaving damage everywhere they lay their eggs. However, when sprays are used, they do not just kill the spotted lanternfly; they kill all the other bugs. Then the birds eat those poisoned bugs and those birds die. Then you have a fox, racoon, or other animal eat the bird, and so on.

So obviously, sprays are causing a lot of damage. Instead, some are using fly glue/tape traps with the thought this would be less harmful. While this is somewhat correct, the Animal Control Officer shared with me it is because of these fly tape traps the third bird she responded to on Sunday will more than likely perish. Birds are getting stuck to the tape and as they attempt to get away, they are pulling out their feathers.

It has become such an issue, The Raptor Trust released the following statement on Facebook last week:

“We’re continuing to sound the alarm – the number of birds tragically caught in glue tape traps set out for Spotted Lanternfly remediation grows daily: more than 60 birds already this year.
This nuthatch had nearly ALL of its wing and tail feathers stuck, and one particularly nasty piece of glue tape caught an entire family of birds.

nuthatch stuck on lanternfly glue trap
This nuthatch had nearly ALL of its wing and tail feathers stuck, and one particularly nasty piece of glue tape caught an entire family of birds (source: Raptor Trust)


While the Spotted Lanternfly is of great concern in our area, the unintended consequences of this method of remediation far outweigh its effectiveness, and in some cases the bycatch victims are they very things that might prey upon the Lanternflies in the first place.
A wildlife-safe alternative is this “circle trap,” being used very effectively in Pennsylvania.
https://extension.psu.edu/how-to-build-a-new-style-spotted-lanternfly-circle-trap
If you must use the sticky tape traps (though we advise alternative methods), you can make them somewhat safer for birds and small mammals by wrapping a cover of small mesh wire over the tape at least an inch away from the tape. The wire mesh needs to be small enough to keep birds out, but the Lanternflies can still get in. Half inch “hardware cloth” is a good option.
If you find a bird caught in a glue trap, please bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.”

Of the 61 birds that have been stuck in glue tape and brought to Raptor Trust as of August 3rd, 15 have recovered and been released and 23 continue to receive care for their injuries. Sadly, the rest have died.

So how do you actually kill spotted lanternflies safely?

If you are in an area that has a large infestation of the dreaded spotted lanternfly, there are a few different ways you can get rid of them that are much safer than spraying poison or using glue traps.

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed (Source: milkweed4monarchs.org)
  1. Smash them out! Just the plain’ old shoe-to-bug method. Just give them the old squish.
  2. Trap in water bottle. Many are finding success holding the mouth of an empty water bottle over them and when they try to fly away they are caught in the bottle. Yes, it is one at a time, but you can catch a bunch in one bottle and then toss it.
  3. Grab the shop vac. If you have a ton of them on the outside of your home, you can actually suck them all up in your shop vac and then pour water and Dawn dish soap in the reservoir to kill them.
  4. Insecticidal soap. This safe, effective, and low toxicity alternative to more toxic pesticides is a great natural way to control many undesirable insects, including the spotted lanternfly. You can either purchase it pre-made, or you can make your own at home. Penn State reports the following soaps work: Concern Insect Killing Soap C, Ortho Elementals Insecticidal Soap, and Safer Insect-Killing-Soap.
  5. Plant Milkweed. As the spotted lanternfly is not indigenous to the United States, Common Milkweed is poisonous to them. An added bonus to planting milkweed? It’s great for butterflies!
  6. Spray horticultural vinegar on weeds. A more potent type of common household vinegar, spraying horticultural vinegar will kill the spotted lanternflies. It will also kill the weeds (or whatever else you spray), so just be careful if you are spraying it near your zinnias or tomato plants.

Unfortunately, it seems like the spotted lanternfly is here for the long-term. We all need to play a part in its management and hopeful eradication. Unfortunately, dealing with an issue such as this doesn’t always have an easy answer. No matter what you use outside, from insect spray to fertilizer, think about how it will affect the environment and wildlife around you before you put a product to use.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s