If it’s a good omen for farmers to find Barn Owls in their barns because they prey chiefly on mice and rats, then why are we killing a farmer’s best friend with rat poison? (rodenticide)
The beautiful Barn Owl known for its heart-shaped face, might be small weighing just 15 to 20 ounces, but it’s mighty when it comes to rodent elimination.
A Barn Owl pair with a family of owlets consume 2,500 voles and other rodents over a year, making them nature’s effective pest controllers.
Yet every day we are reading about Barn Owls and other birds of prey, dying at alarming rates as victims of rat poison.
Rat poison 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.
And worst of all, children.
We don’t understand the deadly impact of rat poisons, yet we continue to put them out there in the environment where no living creature is safe.
Toxic Food Chain
We support Raptors Are The Solution (RATS).
A nonprofit group educating people about the ecological role of birds of prey in urban and wild areas, and the dangers they face from the widespread use of rat poisons.
They are advocating for Assembly Bill (AB) 1788, the California Ecosystems Protection Act to stop the sale of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides in the state.
It’s our hope when the bill finally passes, other states will follow suit.
Rat poison has no place in nature’s ecosystem.
RATS created this graphic, showing how birds of prey become poisoned with rat poison.
Here’s how we are poisoning Barn Owls, other birds of prey, and wildlife.
You (or your exterminator) place a bait box containing rat poison around the outside if your home.
Also, if the rodents are getting inside your home, they are getting out.
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 poison.
Songbirds, shrews, moles, and skunks eat those living things that come in contact with the rat poison, 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.
Barn Owl’s Predators
The average Barn Owl life span is around 18 months.
Estimates indicate that 75% of Barn Owls never live to their first birthday.
Many die of starvation during their first winter, when the ice on top of snow prevents them from breaking through to the prey they can hear beneath the snow’s surface.
The Barn Owl’s chief predator is the Great Horned Owl.
And Barn Owls are prone to get hit by vehicles when swooping near the ground in search of prey.
Now, Barn Owls have a new predator.
Colored Boxes of Poison
Many Barn Owls and other birds of prey die a horrific death slowly bleeding to death from the inside after eating a rodent that was poisoned.
Birds of prey are fulfilling their role as nature’s pest control and pay the ultimate price as victims of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides.
Second-generation rodenticides most toxic to birds include bromadiolone, brodifacoum, difethialone, and difethialone.
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.
Walk into any grocery or hardware store, and chances are you’ll find these brightly colored boxes of poison right across from the bird seed.
See the full list of products and their side effects here.
These products will remain on the market unless the EPA cancels their registration.
How Rat Poison Works
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.
Meet the Faces of Rat Poisoning
Regulations Not Doing Enough
Lisa Owens-Viani, the director and co-founder of Raptors are the Solution (RATS) says the current federal regulations on rodenticide do not go far enough to protect birds of prey 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.
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.
The regulations also did nothing to restrict first-generation anticoagulants, and those are a big problem for wildlife.
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.
Advocating for Wildlife
If you love birds and wildlife and want the senseless deaths from rat poisoning to stop, then you can demand a change from our regulatory agencies.
Rat 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, Viani says RATS has learned that rat poison is showing up in river otter tissue.
Help Stop Use of Rat Poison
Rat 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.
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 there doing their job as ‘nature’s pest control.’
Go to city council meetings and demand that your city stops 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 bans these horrible products.
And support organizations like Raptors are the Solution, American Bird Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Sierra Club, who have all taken legal action to support the EPA’s efforts to ban the sale of harmful rodenticide.
What Can We Do to Save Birds of Prey
The best thing you can do to save our beautiful birds of prey is to ditch the rat poison.
At intoBirds we don’t advocate the killing of any living creature, but understand that most people don’t have a Barn Owl or a Red-tailed Hawk in their backyard keeping rodents under control.
So here are some non-toxic alternatives to consider.
-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 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 will also chew into compost bins, so protect it using hardware cloth.
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.
But first, check for squirrel’s or bird’s nests before doing so.
Rats love ivy and certain vines because they provide excellent shelter.
So, if you have ivy planted, consider removing it and replace it with something that provides less cover for rats.
-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, rodents 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.
-Consider using ContraPest
ContraPest is a safe, humane way to reduce rodent populations.
It’s a liquid bait that is birth control for the rodents, and when continually consumed by the rodents, it is 96% effective in ending fertility in rats.
The product is made by SenesTech and the company supports CA Bill AB 1788.
If passed, Assembly Bill (AB) 1788, the California Ecosystems Protection Act, would ban Second-Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs) throughout the state of California, with the exception of agricultural use or by special permit, ultimately protecting mountain lions and other wildlife.
-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.
Make Smarter Choices
Think about the ramifications before you choose to use rat poison.
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 kill a farmer’s best friend.
Respect the gifts that nature provides.
Let’s all coexist.