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March 2024

Flaco the Beloved Owl Died from Rat Poison

Eurassion Eagle Owl 0Virrazzi 0B0A5087 (1) 2Photo by Fred Virrazzi

     I was saddened but unfortunately not surprised to read that rat poison killed New York City’s celebrated Flaco the Eagle Owl.
     Flaco was the victim of secondary rat poison. Flaco ate a rat that had eaten the poison. (He also had a pigeon virus.)
      The lethal rat(s) no doubt ate the poison inside the black poison dispensers known by their Orwellian name, rat bait stations. They are ubiquitous, even in my hometown of Allendale.    
   The borough — to their credit — was likely the first municipality in NJ to ban these nasty black boxes on borough property, but these animal poison dispensers are everywhere outside commercial properties in town — our supermarket, a bank, office parks, and more.  They are often next to open trash cans or open dumpsters (rat buffets), which tells you how unaware the businesses are about the problem.
    Rodents eat the poison and then die a slow death, making them easy prey for raptors and other animals, including outdoor cats.
    Coincidentally, I also read an online article in THE CITY  today about the cause of death of NYC’s wild animals last year. A leading killer: rat poison.

Here are a few lowlights:
    "THE CITY obtained the 2023 necropsies of those animals via Freedom of Information request, and found many of the birds, mostly Red-tailed hawks, were poisoned by rodenticide.    
     "Although pesticides are restricted in the city’s public parks, birds still often eat rats who have consumed poison somewhere else — and they are often slower, and easier to grab, because of it. As such, rat poison has been a frequent cause of death for other animals, particularly birds, according to previous years’ necropsies reviewed by THE CITY.    

    The point is that these poisonings happen more often than most folks realize. I will spare you the litany of dead hawks and owls that I have brought to The Raptor Trust to be necropsied in recent years.
    The last I heard, there are so many obvious secondary rat-poison deaths in our state that it would be a waste of resources to spend the time and money to test the dead raptors for poison anymore. 
   Hats off to the national group R.A.T.S. (Raptors are the Solution), which has campaigned tirelessly to get these poisons banned in the states and Canadian provinces.
    I write this with a sense of futility. Yes, the world faces far bigger problems, but this one is on our doorstep, and it’s something we can address.
   As R.A.T.S.’s website points out, there are alternatives to these poisons. You can read more here:

Evicting Squirrels — Yet Another Post

When you see leaves in your screech-owl box opening, it’s nature’s way of telling you a squirrel (and possibly a squirrel family) is living there.

If it’s still early in nesting season, best to bang in the box with a broomstick to evict any squirrels, then clean out the box (wearing protective goggles/glasses to keep the dust and gunk out of your eyes). Repeat as needed.