Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rat Poison use in Central Park

Note: As another hawk breeding season is under way , many readers of this page are wondering about Central Park's use of rat poison. Could this have adverse affects on Pale Male and Lola,- and other wildlife too?

People have been worrying about rat poison since the first year Pale Male arrived in the park, and in my book about our early years as hawkwatchers--
Red-tails in Love -- I wrote about how we worried about rat poison [and almost everything else] during those exciting years.

I recently wrote a note to Regina Alvarez, Central Park's Woodlands Manager, reminding her that incubation is beginning at the Fifth Avenue nest. I asked her to please spell out the park's policy about rat-baiting during the hawks' breeding season, for people who might not be aware of it. She wrote back the following letter. I hope this helps assuage the anxiety many of you reveal in the numerous e-mails I've been receiving lately. [I have enlarged a sentence that seems particularly relevant in this regard.]

Hi Marie -

The single most effective measure that the Central Park Conservancy uses to control rats is good sanitation, which significantly reduces the need for baiting. In addition to keeping all of our landscapes as clean as possible during the day, we have dedicated staff at night whose job it is to empty trash receptacles after 4:00 pm. We also have rat-proof trash receptacles for heavily trafficked areas.

When we do bait, protecting Central Park’s wildlife is of paramount importance. We do use Contrac. Our research over the years has found this bait poses the least potential for secondary kill. We take appropriate measures to minimize the risk to hawks and other predatory birds. We do not bait in areas where they feed during nesting and fledgling season, approximately from late-March to October. We do not bait in our Woodlands.

In the course of the last eight-year period, there have not been any recorded cases in Central Park of hawks or other raptors being poisoned by the active ingredient used in our limited baiting program. The amount of rat bait applied in the Park has declined significantly in the same eight-year period.

Our field staff are trained with procedures involving various wildlife situations, which include the collection for testing of dead birds and other animals.

The cause of death for several birds found dead of rat poisoning in New York City was from the active ingredient found in rat poison commonly available in hardware stores and available to the general public, but not in use in Central Park by professional exterminators.

Thanks again.

PS from Marie -- In Red-tails in Love I wrote about the death by posoning of one of Pale Male's previous mates -- the one we called First Love aka Mom II. But in the dead bird's crop were the remains of a poisoned pigeon, one who had ingested pellets put out by the management of a nearby building. Her death was not a result of the park's rat-baiting.