Walk into any grocery or hardware store this time of the year, and you’ll see those brightly colored boxes of rat poison – also known as rodenticide – in the aisles right across from the birdhouses and birdseed.
Their purpose is to rid your home of pesky rodents looking to squat in your home during the cold winter months, but what these poisons are doing is killing our birds of prey and other wildlife.
Let’s clarify, rat poison is rodenticide, and rodenticide is rat poison. The terms are interchangeable. And they’re pretty toxic.
So it shouldn’t come as a shock that toxic rat poisons are dangerous business and impact more than their intended targets, and we must stop using them!
Rodenticide kills the birds that prey on the rodents eating the poison, such as owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, and even Turkey Vultures.
Nearly every species of raptor is dying of rodenticide poisoning. And it also kills other mammals that prey on rodents like red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, black bears, skunks, badgers, mountain lions, bobcats, and even your family pets – cats and dogs.
And finally, worst of all, children.
Many don’t understand the deadly impact of rat poison, yet they continue to put them out there in the environment because they see d-CON commercials on TV, and these products line our store shelves.
But just because something is made available to the public doesn’t mean it’s safe.
All living things are not safe when rat poison is unleashed into the environment. It creates a never-ending toxic food web in nature’s food chain.
Toxic Food Web
This graphic shows how we are unknowingly poisoning birds of prey with rodenticide.
You see mouse droppings on your floor and decide it’s time to get rid of the unwanted house guest, so you (or your exterminator) place a bait box containing rodenticide around your home.
The bait is eaten by voles, mice, and rats, or it leaches into the groundwater, and fish, earthworms, snails, slugs, and salamanders come into contact with the rodenticide.
You don’t realize that those songbirds you enjoy feeding in your backyard, shrews, moles, and skunks, eat those living things that come in contact with rodenticide and quickly become prey for raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawk, owls, and Bald Eagles.
Yes, even our national bird, the Bald Eagle, gets caught in this toxic food web.
And systematically, one by one, the toxic food web starts from the smallest organism and makes its way up the food chain, reaching birds of prey.
Raptor Deaths a Growing Concern
Death from rat poison is a growing concern among raptors.
Once a bird of prey comes into contact with rat poison, it inhibits the bird’s coagulation factor. As a result, the bird’s blood cannot clot, and then they slowly bleed out.
According to Christine Peyreigne, who runs Christine’s Critters Inc., a Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education non-profit in Weston, Connecticut, “Administering vitamin K immediately when rodenticide poisoning is suspected for injured birds of prey gives them a greater chance of recovery.”
“But there’s no such thing as a hawk transfusion, and by the time the bird shows symptoms and someone brings it in for care, it’s often already too late.”
Helpless Victims of Rat Poisoning
To understand the impact of rat poison, you must see the beautiful faces of those birds lost for simply doing their jobs as nature’s pest control.
We prefer sharing photos of birds alive and well, but these images are impactful and must be seen to understand the dangers of rat poison.
-Red-tailed Hawk brought to Christine’s Critters dying of rodenticide poisoning. Unfortunately, by the time the hawk was found, it was too late to reverse the damage. RIP.
-Young Red-tailed Hawk fell from the nest after the parents brought her a poisoned mouse. This beautiful hawk never had the chance to fly. (It would have fledged about a week later).
By the time she arrived at Christine’s Critters, it was too late for vitamin K to reverse the damage done by the rodenticide. Within hours she began bleeding out. RIP.
-Barred Owl dying as a result of rodenticide poisoning. RIP.
-A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was humanely euthanized as a result of rodenticide poisoning. Unfortunately, the hawk was found too late to reverse the damage with vitamin K. RIP.
These are just a few of many birds of prey dying each year due to rodenticide poisoning. And the list goes on and on. We must make it stop!
Real Number of Rodenticide Deaths Unknown
Each year, many sick or dead raptors brought to wildlife rehabilitation centers have rodenticide poisoning. Still, these organizations don’t have the financial means to pay for tests that cost more than $100.
And most people don’t know the state will perform a necropsy for the deceased birds found by people in their yards or public areas to establish the cause of death. In most cases, states can only test a certain number of birds due to funding limitations.
When people find dead raptors in their yards, they don’t know what to do with the bodies, so they either bury them or put them in the trash. Often the bodies of the sick birds are taken by other animals that carry the poison up the food chain.
So a raptor dead of rodenticide poisoning can kill another raptor even in its death.
How Second-Generation Rodenticides are Killing Birds of Prey
Birds of prey are victims of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides. The rodenticides most toxic to birds include bromadiolone, brodifacoum, difethialone, and difenacoum.
These products are available in a variety of forms, including bait blocks and pellets.
See the complete list of products and their side effects here.
First and second-generation rodenticides prevent blood from clotting by inhibiting vitamin K, but second-generation products are much more lethal.
A rodent has to eat the first-generation rodenticide more than once. That means leaving the baits out for a week, and the job is done. But when a rodent eats second-generation rodenticide, it kills them slowly, and they keep coming back and eating more long after they’ve ingested a lethal dose.
These rodents contain many times more than a lethal dose, and these time bombs stumble around for 3-4 days as easy prey and are deadly to predators, scavengers, and pets.
Raptors are the Solution
The presence of birds of prey in the wild serves as a barometer of our ecological health, so losing these incredible birds to super-toxic rat poisons is quite impactful.
Birds of prey tell us when there’s an environmental change, and they play an essential role in controlling the population of rodents and other small mammals.
Their tragic deaths from rat poisoning tell a gruesome story.
Rodenticide poisoning is a public issue in California. People like Lisa Owens Viani, Co-founder, and Director of Raptors Are The Solution (RATS), a non-profit group educating people about the ecological role of birds of prey in urban and wild areas, fights for wildlife by spreading the word about the dangers they face from the widespread use of rat poisons.
RATS see raptors as a valuable asset to our ecology.
“Raptors—and other predatory wildlife—are our best natural, non-toxic form of rodent control,” says Owens Viani. “Preying on rodents is what they do, how they make their living and feed their families.”
When Cooper’s Hawks started dying in her neighborhood, she founded RATS with the idea of ‘let’s let these animals do their job’ because raptors are the solution.
Because so many people live in urban areas with rats and mice, raptors can’t do it all, especially if we keep poisoning them.
Owens Viani says there will always be a need for other rodent control methods because humans are a messy species and produce a lot of trash. And the way we deal with waste leads to pest problems.
Sublethal Impact of Rat Poison
Owens Viani says RATS tested a Great Horned Owl found in a dumpster in a San Francisco park a few years ago. The owl came back positive for several different anticoagulant rat poisons and had a body cavity full of blood.
The owl bled to death internally. And it also had many other illnesses.
Now thanks to the hard work of RATS, stories like these might soon end.
California scored a huge win for birds of prey by curbing the use of super-toxic rat poisons and is the first state with a law protecting birds of prey and native wildlife against the use of super-toxic rat poisons known as second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed the California Ecosystems Protection Act (AB 1788) into law on November 29, 2020. This law curbs the use of super-toxic rat poisons (SGARs) linked to deaths of non-target wildlife like birds of prey, including Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, and Cooper’s Hawks.
The bill places a moratorium, with limited exceptions, on the use of rat poisons until the California Department of Pesticide Regulation reevaluates these products.
It also requires state regulators to reduce the threats to non-target wildlife before the restrictions can be lifted.
And gives hope to other states planning to adapt to this milestone achievement. For example, Connecticut and Massachusetts are working to create similar laws, and British Columbia has already imposed a moratorium on super-toxic rat poisons.
Now Owens Viani calls on the Biden Administration to follow California’s groundbreaking lead and place a national moratorium on deadly second-generation anticoagulant rat poisons. It’s only a matter of time before significant change happens.
Until then, it’s up to people like us who love birds and wildlife to make a difference.
Prevention is the Safest Solution
So you have a mouse in your house. It’s never fun having a pest in your nest, and you want to keep the rodents outside without unleashing poison in your backyard ecosystem.
What should you do?
Make smarter choices by practicing prevention.
-Figure out why you have a rodent problem in the first place. Remember that rats and mice are looking for food and water.
-Don’t provide an easy source of food. Make sure garbage cans are scavenger proof, cover vegetable gardens with a net, attach tree guards to the trunks of fruit trees, and don’t leave any type of garbage around your yard, porch, or garage.
-Don’t leave birdseed or chicken feed dropped on the ground. Chicken coops must be elevated a foot and a half off the ground, or rats will burrow and live underneath them.
-Rodents chew into compost bins, so protect them using hardware cloth.
-Don’t leave pet food outside. It attracts pests.
-Don’t let your home be appealing to rodents. Limit access to shelter and hiding places by sealing up holes in your attics, basement, crawl spaces, garage, and shed.
-Cut tree limbs within three feet of your roof. But first, check for squirrel or bird nests before doing so.
-Remove ivy and vines. Rats love ivy and certain vines because they provide excellent shelter, so if you’ve planted ivy, consider removing it and replace it with something that offers less cover for rats.
The decisions you make can result in the life or death of birds and wildlife that bring you joy in life every day.
So ditch the rodenticide and practice prevention to respect the gifts that nature provides us, and let’s all coexist.