Can We Stop Poisoning Our National Bird?

By Lisa Owens Viani

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On the heels of a new study finding rat poison in Bald Eagles, our countrys emblematic national bird, it is time for the Biden Administration to follow Californias groundbreaking lead and place a national moratorium on deadly second-generation anticoagulant rat poisons (SGARs). 

Last fall, California passed AB 1788, which went into effect on January 1. 

Introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), the bill prohibits most uses of SGARs while the California Department of Pesticide Reevaluation studies the impacts of these deadly products.

SGARs are harming animals throughout California (and other states), including non-target species like eagles, hawks, owls, foxes, mountain lions, bobcats, and many other animals. 

intobirds_golden_eagle_flight
Anticoagulant rodenticide compounds, another name for rat poison, were found in 82% of the 133 eagles tested by researchers, according to a new study by the University of Georgia

Rat Poison in Bald Eagles On the Rise

The new study by the University of Georgia and others in PLOS One finds that 83% of Bald Eagles and 77% of Golden Eagles tested positive for SGARs. 

The livers of 116 Bald Eagles and 17 Golden Eagles sent to the universitys Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study by federal and state wildlife agencies from 2014 through 2018 were tested for anticoagulant rat poisons. 

The carcasses came from all over the U.S., with most Bald Eagles from eastern states and Golden Eagles from western states, and highest numbers from Pennsylvania, Florida, and Georgia.

The second-generation brodifacoum was detected in 107 samples. Other SGARs found were bromadiolone, difethialone, and difenacoum. 

First-generation anticoagulants, which take longer to build up in an animals body, were found in three samples.

We hope that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation will conduct a thorough, objective, scientific review of these products. 

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We must not repeat the perils of DDT from the past to keep our country’s emblematic national bird soaring in the sky. Photo of juvenile Bald Eagle by Dave Harper

Impact of Rat Poison in Bald Eagles and Other Birds of Prey

Myriad scientific studies show that if these products do not kill an animal outright, they often cause other impacts.

This includes weakening the animals immune system, slowing its ability to avoid predators, cars, and other dangers, and bleeding out from ordinarily minor injuries.

One study found that these products caused birth defects in young owls. 

A recent study by a University of Madison-Wisconsin graduate student found anticoagulants in the ovaries of seven owls, showing that SGARs could even impact reproduction. 

There are many other more sustainable solutions to controlling rodents than using deadly SGARs.

Don’t Let Rat Poison Become the New DDT

Bald Eagles had a close call in the mid-twentieth century when DDT caused widespread nesting failure. 

The species declined in historic strongholds like Florida and the Chesapeake Bay and was locally extirpated in much of the U.S. 

After the insecticide was banned, populations rebounded, and the Bald Eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007.

We do not want to relive that history with SGARs as our new DDT.

Ms. Owens Viani is the co-founder, and Director of Raptors Are The Solution, a Project of Earth Island Institute.

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