Seven or Eight New York City Red-Tailed Hawks Dead Thus Far in 2012 from Secondary Rodenticide Poisoning; Is Rodenticide Returning to Washington Square Park?

Detex Block Monitors Rodent Activity

In late July, the number of New York City Red-Tailed Hawks dead of secondary rodenticide poisoning numbered six or seven and was receiving red flags of alarm in some quarters. Then, two of Pale Male’s latest children both got sick, were subsequently rescued, and are believed to be on the road to recovery.* In late August, Zena, Pale Male’s most recent mate, disappeared and is believed to be dead. Ginger Lima, his previous mate, died early this year of secondary rodenticide poisoning. A new female hawk has moved in according to the Pale Male Blog (they will not move into the territory unless the other mate is gone).

It’s getting hard to keep track but I think we are at seven or eight (maybe more) deaths – as of early September this year – of Red-tailed Hawks dead due to secondary rodenticide poisoning (eating a mouse or rat poisoned by a rodenticide).

SE corner of WSP

In May of 2011, the Parks Department agreed to remove the rodenticide at Washington Square and NYU made a big thing about how they were advocating for that (and how “sustainable” they are) although nearby University buildings were still displaying rodenticide bait stations. The hawk watchers believe that the rodenticide is coming back to Washington Square and I’d say the monitoring of the “rodents” with Detex (sign above near construction) indicates that is possible.  The hawk advocates are genuinely concerned and with good reason. They seem to want to push for a different, “kinder” (my word, not theirs) rodenticide but is that even the answer?

I will reiterate that I think it’s time to rethink poisons in our city. Author Robert Sullivan, who studied rats in the city and wrote about his discoveries in his book, “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants,” states that removing garbage and the rats’ food source is the key,  even tho’ no one considers that was the “sexier” solution – it IS the solution. He consulted with David E. Davis, the “founding father of modern rat studies” who determined that “when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. ‘Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats,’ Davis wrote.”

The sign at top is for Detex and is located on the southern end of the park near the Phase III construction. It is allegedly “non toxic” and tracks the “rodent activity.” This bait station (above) is currently in the southeastern section of Washington Square and I don’t know if it’s newly placed or old. An email query to the Parks Department as to its position currently on rodenticides and specifically to Washington Square Park did not receive a response.

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* In a sad turn of events, Jeff Johnson, the person who killed a former co-worker outside the near the Empire State Building a couple of weeks ago, had provided that latest update on Pale Male’s children; he was an avid hawk watcher. The Pale Male Blog has an interesting take on the last time hawk watchers saw him at Central Park in “The Man We Called ‘SUIT.” The New York Times interviewed his mother who spoke of his love of his cat in addition to the hawks. Comments at many of the city’s papers mentioned how hard it is for people right now and how certain things push some people over the edge. The Bloomberg Administration’s coddling of developers and uber-gentrifying of neighborhoods makes it harder for people outside of the Mayor’s billionaire friends to make a living and doesn’t help. Obviously this was a complex situation and sad for everyone involved.

Parks Department says Rodenticide Removed at Washington Square. (And yet…) On Rethinking Use of Poison in Our Parks

Rat Poison Sign Washington Sq Park

The City’s Parks Department told the New York Times yesterday (May 6th) that they were removing the rodenticide “bait stations” at Washington Square that day to accommodate red-tailed hawk couple Violet and Bobby and their newborn hatchlings now residing above the park. This is good news!

However, at 7 p.m. yesterday, bait stations were still visible along Washington Square South and Washington Square East behind Phase II construction fences and close to the Bobst Library; the building’s 12th floor ledge accommodates Violet and Bobby’s nest.

From New York Times City Room Blog, “The Dangers of Rat Poison”:

bait station at base of tree washington sq south

The main threat Bobby and Violet’s brood face, and it is a serious one, is from Bobby bringing home a poisoned rat for dinner. Rat poisoning is believed to have caused the death last month of an adult male red-tail in Riverside Park, state officials say.

The city parks department regularly sets poison in rat burrows in Washington Square Park, which the hawks’ nest looks out on. But in anticipation of a possible hawk hatch, the department has refrained from doing so since April 22.

bait station, washington square east

“We will not be placing additional rat poison in the park while the hawks are fledging,” Phil Abramson, a parks spokesman, said in an e-mail Friday.

“Parks staff is searching the park today to make sure there are no bait boxes or any other signs of poison remaining.”

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Hopefully, those remaining bait stations, pictured above left, were located and removed today.

Meanwhile, it might be time to rethink rat poison in our city parks in general.

In Robert Sullivan’s book, “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants,” he interviews David E. Davis, “the founding father of modern rat studies.”

Sullivan writes: [Davis] consulted with cities on their rats, preaching his most important discovery throughout the country – that poisoning rats was not in itself an effective way of controlling them. In fact, when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. “Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats,” Davis wrote.

The only way to get rid of rats was to get rid of the rat food, or garbage, but no one wanted to hear this: as it was the dawn of the age of ecology so also it was the dawn of the age of the chemical, of poisons and pesticides, and people seemed to want a sexier, chemical-based fix.

Seems they still do.

Photos: Cathryn

Yesterday’s WSP Blog Post: Violet and Bobby Nest-Watch: Baby Hawk Spotted! On Heels of Riverside Park Hawk’s Death, Can We Rid Washington Square of Hazardous Rodenticide?

Update: In a tense turn of events, not poison-related, Violet’s foot is entwined in plastic netting leg is being constricted by a wildlife identification band placed there by a researcher. Wildlife rehabilitators and hawk experts Bobby and Cathy Horvath are coming today to see if they can help and somehow spring her from it! [5/9: They will be attempting a rescue mission from the window ledge to remove the band in the next few days. The bands don’t usually cause this to happen but it does make you wonder in general about placing bands on birds and other animals. ]