(NaturalNews) United Airlines, in conjunction with the airport, contracted a company to kill off birds at the Bush Intercontinental Airport this past weekend, to allegedly "reduce the health and safety risks posed" by the animals as reported by KHOU 11 News.
Spectators who witnessed the event described the unsightly scene in which hundreds of birds fell from the sky, flipping and fidgeting in distress as they hit the ground, suffering from what many called an inhumane death.
"It was going around and around in circles, you know, like how somebody is drunk or dizzy," said Betrice Miles, an airline parking lot worker.
In an internal email, United Airlines referred to the birds as "pests" and mapped out 20 bait trays filled with corn kernels containing the toxicant Avitrol, located throughout all terminals at the airport, including a United maintenance hangar.
Aivtrol's manufacturer said the chemical is used as a "frightening agent," but the bird-killing over the weekend speaks for itself in that the chemical doesn't just frighten but causes its victims to suffer from a long, gruesome death.
"These deaths look anything but humane," said Dr. John Hadidian, Senior Scientist with the Humane Society of the United States.
Another airline parking lot worker videotaped the slow death of a great-tailed grackle, which took a full hour to die, sometimes struggling, and appearing paralyzed, with beak open for minutes on end.
"The birds that are dying after ingesting this compound are suffering and in great distress," stressed Dr. Hadidian. "I trust my eyes and I look it and I say that is a horrible way for an animal to die."
Despite footage of the painful bird deaths, the chemical company's website insists that affected birds "are not in pain" after being exposed to Avitrol.
While the Humane Society agrees that birds can pose threats to airplanes, like the U.S. Airways jet that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River after birds got caught in both of the engines, the group says there are better ways to deal with the problem.
The Humane Society and other animal rights groups advocate for non-lethal ways to deal with birds, such as using noise-making devices or "laying down pigeon birth-control pellets to control overpopulations," KHOU reports.
The Houston airport, which reportedly kills off birds once a year in this awful fashion, said they employ a "multi-pronged system in addressing the need to keep the wildlife outside the operational perimeter" of all its airports, according to a written statement by spokesman David Herbet.
In addition to using loud noises, the airport is allowed to use chemicals approved for use by the Federal Aviation Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Herbet added that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed and approved the measure known as the "bird abatement project."
Several states have banned Avitrol entirely
Despite the chemical's federal approval, several state and local governments including San Francisco, Boulder, Colorado and the State of New York, have banned Avitrol entirely, which affects the birds' nervous systems.
In 2009, New Jersey banned Avitrol after it unintentionally killed dozens of grackles. An initiative by Fort Lee's Health Department intended to kill around 100 "pestering pigeons" with the chemical, in what officials say they were told would only attract three of 100 pigeons to the food, essentially scaring the rest off and only killing 3 percent of the birds.
Officials maintain that they were told, "the seeds would be too big for any other bird to eat and would be a successful animal control method," as reported by North Jersey.
The toxicant instead killed many more birds than anticipated, including grackles, which were reportedly not intentionally targeted. The resolution to ban the chemical was passed unanimously.
Avitrol's slogan is "Bringing balance to an unbalanced environment."