Save Our Raptors, Don’t Use Rodenticide!

Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Pose Fatal Threat to Birds of Prey and Other Wildlife

If you love birds, then please don’t use rodenticide to kill rodents in and around your home.

Rodenticide kills more than rodents.

It kills the birds that prey on the rodents eating the poison, such as owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, and even turkey vultures.

In short, nearly every species of raptor is dying of rodenticide poisoning.

A single barn owl can consume about 1,500 rats, mice, and voles per year
A single barn owl can consume about 1,500 rats, mice, and voles per year

One breed especially vulnerable is the Barn Owl because it eats so many mice.

Yes, Harry Potter fans, even owls that look like Hedwig die from rodenticide poisoning.

And it also kills other mammals that prey on rodents, such as red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, black bears, skunks, badgers, mountain lions, bobcats, and even your family pets – cats and dogs.

Rodenticide kills other mammals that prey on rodents, such as bobcats, black bears, wolves and red foxes
Rodenticide kills other mammals that prey on rodents, such as bobcats, black bears, wolves and red foxes

And finally, worst of all, children.

No living creature is safe.

We hope we have your attention now.

Toxic Food Web

Raptors Are The Solution (RATS) is a non-profit group educating people about the ecological role of birds of prey in urban and wild areas, and the dangers they face from widespread use of rat poisons.

They created this graphic showing how birds of prey become poisoned with rodenticide.

Whatever an animal eats, especially poison, travels up the food chain. Illustration by Raptors Are The Solution
Whatever an animal eats, especially poison, travels up the food chain. Illustration by Raptors Are The Solution

Here’s how we are poisoning birds of prey.

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.

One barn owl needs to eat about 79 pounds of mice a year. During its 10-year lifespan, that equals around 798 pounds of mice, which is about 12,775 individual mice!
One barn owl needs to eat about 79 pounds of mice a year. During its 10-year lifespan, that equals around 798 pounds of mice, which is about 12,775 individual mice!

Songbirds, shrews, moles, and skunks eat those living things that come in contact with rodenticide, and they become prey for raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawk, owls, and Bald Eagles.

Our family pets also get entangled in this vicious 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.

Growing Concern

Rodenticide poisoning is a growing concern among raptors.

In California’s San Diego County, rodenticides showed up in 92 percent of raptors.

In New York, rodenticides were found in 49 percent of 12 species of necropsied raptors. For Great Horned Owls, the figure was 81 percent.

A study by Tufts University found that 88 percent of raptors have rodenticide poisoning.

It inhibits the bird’s coagulation factor, they cannot clot their blood and then 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 for rodenticide poisoning gives a bird of prey 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.”

Victims of Rodenticide Poisoning

These are the beautiful faces of rodenticide poisoning.

Beautiful faces of rodenticide poisoning: Top left: Red-tailed Hawk dying of rodenticide poisoning; right: Young Red-tailed Hawk died of rodenticide poisoning before it could every fly; Bottom left: Barred Owl lost to rodenticide poisoning; right: Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk humanely euthanized as a result of rodenticide poisoning
Beautiful faces of rodenticide poisoning: Top left: Red-tailed Hawk dying of rodenticide poisoning; right: Young Red-tailed Hawk died of rodenticide poisoning before it could every fly; Bottom left: Barred Owl lost to rodenticide poisoning; right: Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk humanely euthanized as a result of rodenticide poisoning. Photo credit: Christine’s Critters

A Red-tailed Hawk brought to Christine’s Critters dying of rodenticide poisoning.

By the time the hawk was found, it was too late for vitamin-K to revere the damage.

RIP.

A 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.

A Barred Owl that died as a result of rodenticide poisoning.

RIP.

A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk humanely euthanized as a result of rodenticide poisoning.

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 can go on and on.

Number of Rodenticide Deaths Unknown

Many sick or dead raptors brought to wildlife rehabilitation centers each year have rodenticide poisoning.

The centers cannot afford to confirm the deaths from rodenticide because they don’t have the financial means to pay for tests that cost more than $100.

Many of the deceased birds found by people in their yards or public areas never get tested by their Department of Fish and Wildlife because most people don’t know the state will perform a necropsy to establish the cause of death.

And in most cases, states can only test a certain number of birds due to funding limitations.

Eurasian Tawny Owl the victim of rodenticide poisoning
Eurasian Tawny Owl the victim of rodenticide poisoning

Frequently people who find dead raptors in their yards don’t know what to do with the bodies and either bury them or put them in the trash.

The bodies 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.

Boxes of Poison

All of these beautiful birds died a horrific death slowly bleeding to death from the inside after eating a rodent that was poisoned.

These birds were fulfilling their role as nature’s pest control and paid the ultimate price as victims of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides.

Second-generation rodenticides most toxic to birds include bromodialone, brodifacoum, difethialone, and difenacoum.

These products are sold over the counter and approved for use by the EPA.

Brands such as d-Con, Tomcat, and Black Flag are available in a variety of forms, including bait blocks and pellets.

See the full list of products and their side effects here.

These products will remain on the market unless the EPA cancels their registration.

Walk in any grocery or hardware store, and chances are you’ll find these brightly colored boxes of poison.

How Rodenticides Work

First and second-generation rodenticides prevent blood from clotting by inhibiting vitamin-K, but the 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.

That means 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.

Barred Owls eat many small mammals, especially rodents such as mice and voles
Barred Owls eat many small mammals, especially rodents such as mice and voles

Famous Birds Killed by Rodenticide

Bald Eagle

The symbol of our nation, a Bald Eagle, fell victim to second-generation rodenticide in the summer of 2018 on Cape Cod.

The story was picked up by several newspapers, and the story went viral on Facebook.

The image of the Bald Eagle lying on the examination table at the Cape Wildlife Center was chilling.

And makes you question why this magnificent bird suffered such a horrible death?

NYC’s Red-tailed Hawks Pale Male and Lima

Pale Male - NYC's celebrity Red-tailed Hawk
Pale Male – NYC’s celebrity Red-tailed Hawk

Pale Male is a 29-year old Red-tailed Hawk who has been nesting on a Fifth Avenue building in NYC since the 1990s.

In February 2012, Pale Male’s fifth mate, Lima, was found dead shortly before she laid her eggs.

The necropsy found fatal doses of three rodenticides in her liver.

Pale Male then took another mate, his sixth, Zena.

In 2012 the pair fledged three chicks, one was thought to die from rodenticide, and the other two were gravely sickened by rodenticides, but treated with vitamin-K and released.

Raptors are the Solution

Rodenticide poisoning is a public issue in California.

On July 4, 2007, Dan Rubino, a Berkeley, California resident found two dead birds in his swimming pool and called his neighbor who was a wildlife advocate.

The birds were identified as juvenile Cooper’s Hawks, and their cause of death was rodenticide poisoning.

Brodifacoum (an anticoagulant found in rodent bait commonly used as a household rodenticide) was detected in their livers.

Lisa Owens Viani is the Co-Founder and Director of Raptors Are The Solution, A Project of Earth Island Institute
Lisa Owens Viani is the
Co-Founder and Director of Raptors Are The Solution, A Project of Earth Island Institute

The neighbor Rubino called that day had a significant impact on everyone who loves birds, especially birds of prey.

That person was Lisa Owens Viani.

And she has since gone on to serve as the director and co-founder of Raptors Are The Solution (RATS), a project of Earth Island Institute, a four-star rated charity by Charity Navigator.

Raptors are Ecology Asset

Owens Viani wants others to 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 Viani.

“Preying on rodents is what they do, how they make their living and feed their families.”

She said when Cooper’s Hawks started dying in her neighborhood, she founded RATS with the idea of ‘let’s let these animals do their job.’

In other words, raptors are the solution.

Red-tailed hawks play an important role in the ecosystem by helping to control the populations of small mammals, including rodents and rabbits
Red-tailed hawks play an important role in the ecosystem by helping to control the populations of small mammals, including rodents and rabbits

Because so many people live in urban areas where there are so many 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 methods of rodent control because humans are a messy species and produce a lot of trash.

And the way we deal with trash leads to pest problems.

Sublethal Impact of Rodenticide

Owens Viani says RATS tested a Great Horned Owl found in a dumpster in a San Francisco park a few years ago and 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.

Eagle Owl with a mouse
Eagle Owl with a mouse

She points out that rat poison has been linked to negatively impact an animal’s immune system, and is responsible for lower birth weights and shorter wings and tails in Barn Owl chicks fed with poisoned rodents.

“We don’t understand all of the sublethal impacts of rat poisons, yet we continue to put them out there in the environment,” she adds.

Rodenticide Regulations Not Doing Enough

Owens Viani says the current federal regulations on rodenticide do not go far enough to protect raptors and other wildlife.

In 2014, after pressure from several nonprofit groups (including RATS) and some lawsuits, the EPA agreed to remove second-generation anticoagulants from consumer shelves but did not take them away from the pest control industry.

The theory was that the public was misusing these products.

“That makes no sense. A rat or mouse doesn’t care who puts out the poison. Whether it’s a professional or a homeowner, the rodent will eat it all the same,” she says.

Sickened rodents are easier prey, and some studies show that hawks will preferentially prey on sick rodents.

Owens Viani says RATS know of an instance where a Red-tailed Hawk learned to wait outside a poison bait box for rodents to come out and pick them off.

“I’m not sure of that hawk’s fate, but I fear for it,” she adds.

The regulations also did nothing to restrict first-generation anticoagulants, and those are a big problem for wildlife.

Farmers can lose huge amounts of planted crops and stored grains to rodents. Owls play an important role in keeping these potential pests under control. And they do it all for free!
Farmers can lose huge amounts of planted crops and stored grains to rodents. Owls play an important role in keeping these potential pests under control. And they do it all for free!

First-generation Coagulants

Owens Viani says the restrictions put into place so far have not helped.

The California Fish & Wildlife data shows no decrease in mortality since second-generation anticoagulants were removed from consumer shelves.

Second-generation rodenticides are the “one feeding kills” type, but first-generation, used over time, are just as bad and accumulate in the rodent’s body.

So by the time a hawk or owl plucks it off, it can be just as toxic as a rodent poisoned with second-generation anticoagulants.

First-generation rodenticides have also been linked to immune system impacts in bobcats and mountain lions.

Advocate for Wildlife

If you love birds and wildlife and want the senseless deaths from rodenticide poisoning to stop, then you can demand a change from our regulatory agencies.

Rodenticide poisoning is a well-kept secret.

We don’t read ingredients labels, and the pesticide industry has a significant influence on the regulatory system.

Take time to read the fine print on the labels, and you’ll see it says that these poisons should never be used near water and that they are highly toxic to aquatic organisms.

Yet they’re used on creek and river banks all the time, and near other water sources.

And now, Owens Viani says RATS has learned that rat poison is showing up in river otter tissue.

The Bald Eagle is the chief over all the winged creatures, and these magnificent birds are dying of rodenticide poisoning
The Bald Eagle is the chief over all the winged creatures, and these magnificent birds are dying of rodenticide poisoning

Help Stop Use of Rodenticide

Rodenticide poisoning is dangerous for all living things, not just birds.

If you want to see a change in the laws for the use of rodenticide or a ban of all anticoagulants, then you need to speak up.

Silence doesn’t create change.

Owens Viani urges people to get involved at the local level.

Talk to your neighbors about not using poison because of the impact it has on our beneficial wildlife.

And just because you live in a city doesn’t mean owls and hawks are not there, and this doesn’t apply to you.

Cities have a tremendous number of rodents and birds of prey are they’re doing their job as ‘nature’s pest control.’

Go to city council meetings and demand that your city stop using rodenticide in the local parks and switch to more sustainable solutions.

Remember, it’s not just birds of prey and wildlife at harm.

Children can also be poisoned if they get into the bait, as well as our pets.

Get involved at the state level and demand that your state ban these horrible products.

Cooper’s Hawks usually prey on small birds, but they also eat rodents
Cooper’s Hawks usually prey on small birds, but they also eat rodents

Organizations to Support

-The American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have all taken legal action to support the EPA’s efforts to ban the sale of harmful rodenticide.

Wildlife groups say there are safe, cost-effective options on the shelves today that don’t indiscriminately kill wildlife.

Raptors Are The Solution rewards institutions and businesses that stop using poison, and sometimes award them owl boxes if no poison is being used in the nearby vicinity.

The Hungry Owl Project provides Barn Owl boxes to vintners and other agricultural operators that stop using poison.

Project Coyote educates the public about the beneficial role of coyotes in the ecosystem.

Many coyotes are great rodent predators and have been sickened or died after eating rat poison.

-Support your local Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers like Christine’s Critters who work hard every day helping injured birds of prey, many of which are victims of rodenticide poisoning.

Ditch the Rodenticide

Here are non-toxic alternatives to consider.

Raptors Are The Solution profile ways to keep rodents away without using poison and other harmful methods
Raptors Are The Solution profile ways to keep rodents away without using poison and other harmful methods

-Prevention is the best solution.

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 top the trunks of fruits trees and don’t leave any type of garbage around your yard, porch or garage.

Don’t leave bird seed 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 will also chew into compost bins, so protect it using hardware cloth or something like it.

Don’t leave pet food outside, it will attract 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.

And remove tree limbs within three feet of your roof.

Rats love ivy and certain vines because they provide great shelter.

So, if you have ivy planted, consider removing it and replace it with something that provides less cover for rats.

-For outdoor pest problems, use a Raticator.

The Raticator is an electronic zapper that has the least likelihood of harming other animals.

Installing Barn Owl boxes can be a very cost effective and eco-friendly way to help with a rodent problem
Installing Barn Owl boxes can be a very cost effective and eco-friendly way to help with a rodent problem

-Use non-toxic alternatives in your home.

A snap trap can be used safely as long in your home as it’s not placed where a pet can get into it.

Figure out how the rodents are getting in.

Remember they can slip through a hole the size of a quarter.

Trap the rodent and then perform exclusion on your home or apartment building, or hire a company that specializes in doing so.

Tufts Wildlife Clinics points out that people believe poisons are more humane than snap traps, but an animal bleeding to death is neither quick nor exceptionally humane.

Don’t use snap traps outside

Snap traps are effective, but should only be used in enclosed spaces where wildlife cannot come into contact with them.

Songbirds and other animals have gotten caught in them and have been maimed or killed.

-Hire an exterminator if the rodent problem is out of control.

If you need an exterminator, then choose one that practices integrated pest management. (A multi-pronged approach that avoids chemicals control methods).

People hate rodents because they contaminate our food and spread disease, but using lethal poison to eliminate your rodent problem impacts every living thing in your ecosystem.

Be wise and consider other living things before usingrodenticide
Be wise and consider other living things before using rodenticide

Make Smarter Choices

Think about the ramifications before you chose to use rodenticide.

Choose less toxic alternatives that are safer for people, pets, birds, wildlife, and the environment.

Your actions can result in the death of birds and wildlife that bring you joy in life.

Or prevent a young hawk from ever using its wings to fly.

Let’s all coexist.

Comments

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  1. Does the Raticator provide a humane death? I do not “hate” rodents. Yes, let’s all coexist! Scraps of food thrown about (which is so common) invite rodents. And dumpsters that are not secured properly are a problem. What about rodent birth control, I’ve heard of being used in some locations, is this something that should be more widely used? Excellent article, but don’t condone hating any creature. Humans, once again, are the problem.

    • Holly, agree with all of your points. The Raticator kills pretty quickly, with a lethal shock. The batteries must be fully charged or it will not work. Re your other question, there is a new product called Contrapest that *slows* rat reproduction but it is not a hormone. It just knocks back rat fertility, which is really important. It is made by a company called Senestech but is only available to professional companies right now.

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