Blame it on the Bard.

Hundreds of birds that dropped dead on Somerset County cars, porches and snow-covered lawns, alarming residents over the weekend, were all of a rather foul breed of fowl -- the notorious European starling, which the United States Department of Agriculture killed on purpose.

The starling, a prominent figure in Shakespeare's "Henry IV," has become a royal nuisance in North America. They have been invading farms and pushing out native wildlife since a New York City group infatuated with the playwright released about 100 imported starlings in Central Park in 1890 and 1891.

It was part of an ill-conceived plan by the American Acclimatization Society to make European immigrants feel at home by filling America with all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works.

Yesterday, the USDA acknowledged a few mistakes of its own in spreading the word in the area around a Princeton Township farm, where it applied a pesticide Friday to kill 3,000 to 5,000 starlings plaguing a livestock farmer.

"It was raining dead birds," said Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine, explaining how people watched starlings drop throughout the Griggstown section of his town, which borders Princeton Township in Mercer County. "People were concerned."

Everything from Avian influenza to West Nile disease, both bird-killing ailments that also affect humans, was feared. But no humans or pets were ever at risk, said the USDA, contending the pesticide, known as DRC-1339, is inert once it is eaten by the birds and becomes metabolized.

That part of the story is only now reaching residents in Somerset County's Franklin Township, where officials continued efforts yesterday to help citizens find ways to dispose of the bird corpses littering their lawns.

"Unfortunately, this was also done on a Friday, so the birds died on the weekend when no one was around to respond to calls. I can just imagine it would have been very disconcerting for people to find the birds dead," said Carol Bannerman, a USDA spokeswoman.

State agriculture and wildlife officials were notified two weeks ago, along with Somerset County officials. But Ken Daly, Franklin Township's administrator, said the township was told too little, too late.

"The only notice we got in the municipal building was on Friday, a secondhand phone call from our county health director that somewhere, sometime the USDA would be culling birds. No one knew what that meant. If we had known it was coming, we could have gotten word out to the residents," he explained.

The pesticide was applied by the USDA on bait piles at the farm, and the USDA said there was one other miscalculation. While the pesticide has been used in the past in densely populated New Jersey, this time the starlings moved far off the Mercer County farm where they ingested it.

"In a rural situation the birds would have concentrated in one roosting location. Apparently here, they were feeding in one location and roosting elsewhere, in areas quite dispersed and away from the farm," Bannerman explained.

The USDA said it began to help the farmer after non-lethal efforts failed.

"The farmer has a variety of livestock, and the birds would eat the seed, which takes food away from the livestock, costs the farmer money. Also, as the birds eat, they excrete droppings into the food left for the livestock to eat. It was a very unhealthy situation," Bannerman explained.

"The farmer had tried other non-lethal methods, like changing the food he was feeding his animals, dispersing the birds, trying to chase them away and having predator birds on the farm. There just wasn't any impact," she added.

Starlings, now numbering in the multi-millions in North America, move in large flocks and are very aggressive. They will push native birds, including the American kestrel, woodpeckers, martins and bluebirds from tree holes or roosts during breeding season.

They pose equally troublesome hazards for humans.

Starling flocks collide with aircraft, foul power stations and set up winter roosts in the ornate facades of old towns, defecating on shoppers below and corroding the buildings.

The Town of Dover, in Morris County, fought a long and frustrating war with a flock in the 1980s, using numerous non-lethal solutions.

"We really didn't solve the problem," said Health Officer Donald Costanzo.

"We used the sound system we use for Christmas music, playing sounds of starlings in distress, which was supposed to get them to leave," he explained. "The sound agitated the starlings, so they would start screeching even more, but they didn't leave."

Between the recorded and live squawking, humans started to complain and the city turned off the noise.

The starlings, for the most part, remained.