Category Archives: Birds of New England

Alternatives to Deadly Second-generation Rat Poison

Recently we shared a story from the Snowy Owl Project that this year Snowy Owls have remained in Massachusetts throughout the summer. We also posted about eight cases of Snowy Owl deaths by rat poison, in Massachusetts, which has been documented during the present Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018. Buried in the post was a link to an article from Audubon, “Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives,” which is about alternatives to the new second-generation rodenticide that is killing our native predator population. These are the very birds and animals that we want to support because they eat rats and mice. This is not an abstract problem; Cape Ann Wildlife rehabbers Jodi Swenson and Erin Hutchings are caring for almost daily dying wildlife that has been poisoned to death by second-generation rodenticide, and the problem is mushrooming. Second-generation rodenticides also kill pet dogs and cats! 

Jodi and Erin recently shared the above photo of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk they had been treating for rodenticide poisoning, which tragically did not make it. These birds are victims of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides used by exterminators, businesses, farmers, and homeowners.

The brand names are Havoc, Talon, Generation, d-Con, and Hot Shot. Do not buy these products because they contain the deadly indgredients brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone, and difenacoum.

“Both first- and second-generation rodenticides prevent blood from clotting by inhibiting vitamin K, though the second-generation products build to higher concentrations in rodents and are therefore more lethal to anything that eats them.

What makes second-generation rodenticides so non-selective is that they kill slowly, so rodents keep eating them long after they’ve ingested a lethal dose. By the time they expire, or are about to, they contain many times the lethal dose and are therefore deadly to predators, scavengers, and pets.

There’s no safe place or safe delivery system for second-generation rodenticides. After a rodent partakes, it stumbles around for three to four days, displaying itself as an especially tempting meal not just for raptors but for mammalian predators, including red foxes, gray foxes, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, swift foxes, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, black bears, skunks, badgers, mountain lions, bobcats, fishers, dogs, and house cats—all of which suffer lethal and sublethal secondary poisoning from eating rodents. Deer, non-target rodents, waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds, songbirds, and children suffer lethal and sublethal poisoning from eating bait directly.”

Here in a nutshell are alternatives to second generation rat poison. Please read the complete article, which goes in to much greater detail to better understand why this is happening, which companies are responsible for creating the toxic poison, which companies are taking it upon themselves to ban second-generation rodenticides (Walgreens, yes, Home Depot, no), and how you can help.

  1. Prevent a rodent infestation by keeping waste in tightly covered garbage pails and compost bins.
  2. RATS! (Raptors are the Solution) – a national alliance of citizens, nonprofit groups, and local governments that educates consumers and municipalities about safe methods of rodent control and the dangers of second-generation poisons. MASS-RATS is the newly formed state chapter of RATS.
  3. . Hungry Owl Project – delivers safe, effective rodenticide in the form of Barn Owls! This organization also advocate for other predators—coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, badgers, skunks, bobcats, raccoons, opossum.
  4. When natural rodent control is not possible in urban areas: single- and multiple-entrance snap traps, electrocuting traps, glue traps (provided you use them only indoors and frequently dispatch stuck rodents), and even first-generation baits with these active ingredients: chlorophacinone, diphacinone, diphacinone sodium salt, war-farin, and warfarin sodium salt.
  5. The “Better Mouse Trap” – Take a metal rod, run it through holes drilled in the center of both lids of an emptied tin soup can so the can becomes a spinning drum. Fasten both ends of the rod to the top of a plastic bucket via drilled holes. Coat the can with peanut butter, and fill the bucket with water and a shot of liquid soap (to break the surface tension and thus facilitate quicker, more humane drowning). Mice and rats jump onto the can, and it spins them into the water.

https://youtu.be/iho0Qgwz1y

Toxic Lunch photo by Dan Vickers

A healthy Red-tailed Hawk eating non-poisoned lunch.

SNOWY OWLS IN MASSACHUSETTS IN AUGUST!?!

The Snowy Owl Project shares that not one, not two, not three, but four Snowy Owls remain in our area! This is highly unusual for August because most Snowies have left Massachusetts by May.

They are finding finding plenty to eat. The owls are being closely monitored and thus far have no health issues. This is the time of year that Snowy Owls molt, so if you see one, it may be brown and missing some feathers.

Hedwig in the moonlight

Tragically, a Snowy was recently rescued at Logan Airport and was taken to Tufts, where it died of rodenticide poison. That brings this year’s total to eight that have been killed by rat poison. Imagine if in every region, this many were killed annually by rat poison. It’s no wonder the species is struggling, despite occasional irruptive years.

TOXIC LUNCH!

Photo Dan Vickers

Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge shares the following:

Do you have unwanted mice and rats around your home? Do you also have birds of prey and beloved pets using that same area? If you do, consider the potential deadly consequences of using toxic rodenticides on more than just the rodents.

Dan Vickers snapped this photograph of a Red-tailed Hawk eating a poisoned rat. The blue color you see in the gut of the rat is a fat-soluble dye used in anticoagulant rodenticides. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for rat poisons to accumulate in the food web. Once this hawk consumes the poison, it too can die.

Please help minimize wildlife exposure to pesticides and consider the collateral damage and danger for other mammals, birds of prey, domestic pets, and humans.

Follow this link for more information and safer rodenticide alternatives:

Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives

A second generation of ultra-potent rodenticides creates a first-class crisis for people, pets, and wildlife.

 

GLOUCESTER DPW ROCKIN THE NEW FENCING AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

Check out the awesome new dune fencing recently installed at Good Harbor Beach by our DPW crew. The wire fencing runs along the length of the beach. The DPW did an outstanding job, very neat and unobtrusive.

Dune fencing plays an important role in reducing erosion. One of the main benefits of dune fencing is to help keep pets and people out of the dunes. Why is it detrimental to the dunes to allow uncontrolled dogs to run through the dunes and for people to use the dunes to access the parking lot, or worse, as their personal toilet? Repeated traffic through the dunes damages and kills the plants growing in the dunes. Plants help control erosion by stabilizing soil and sediments with their roots. Dune vegetation helps break the impact of of wave splash and rain, and also traps sand to help build up the dunes.

The fencing material installed by the DPW is an excellent choice for nesting shorebirds. This year especially, with much of the beach vegetation washed away and with the beach greatly narrowed, the Piping Plover adults and chicks had learned to use the area behind the old wire fencing for shade and to hide from predators. The open fencing still allows for small wild creatures to go in and out of the holes to find shelter and safety at the base of the dune.

Pip snuggled under Mama PiPl

Thank you Gloucester DPW for a super job well done!

Adult Piping Plovers and chicks found shelter along the wire fencing (the Bachelor left, and Mama and Pip, right).

STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

After exploring the beach, the three-day-old Least Tern chick decided to take a short cut through the rocks to nestle under Mom. She was well-camouflaged while brooding and keeping warm and cozy her second chick.

He tried and tried to get to her, first hopping from one foot to the other,

while trying to squeeze with all his tiny might through the space between the rocks…

before tumbling backward, with legs splayed and wings all akimbo.

Quickly righting himself (with directives from Mom),

around he went the long way and had himself a good long snuggle under Mom.

While observing and thinking about tiny shorebird chicks, like Least Terns and Piping Plovers, I am continually struck by their resiliency, by their tenacity, and by their ability to prevail, despite the natural and manmade threats to their survival.

OUTSTANDING COASTAL WATERBIRD CONSERVATION COOPERATORS MEETING!

Piping Plover Chick Lift-off! – Not quite ready to fly yet, but testing his wings and airborne for a few seconds.

On Tuesday this past week my friend Deborah and I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable. The meeting is held annually to bring together people and organizations that are involved with population monitoring and conservation efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds. Threatened and endangered species such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention, while the meeting also encompasses efforts on behalf of heron, cormorant, and egret species.

American Oystercatchers

Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and US Fish and Wildlife. Gloucester was well represented. In addition to Deborah and myself, two members of the Animal Advisory Committee also attended; chairperson Alicia Pensarosa and former animal control officer Diane Corliss. Many of you may remember our Mass Wildlife Piping Plover intern Jasmine. She was there to give a presentation on habitat vegetation utilized by nesting Piping Plovers. Her aunt, Gloucester’s Terry Weber, was there to support Jasmine. This was Jasmine’s first time speaking in public and she did an excellent job!

Each region gave the 2018 population census report for nesting birds as well as providing information about problems and solutions. We all share similar challenges with predation from crows and gulls, uncontrolled dogs, enforcement, and habitat loss and it was very interesting to learn about how neighboring communities are managing problems and issues.

Just one highlight of a day filled with helpful insights and useful information is that we can be very proud of our state—Massachusetts is at the leading edge of the Piping Plover recovery effort. The representative from New Jersey was there specifically to learn from Massachusetts conservationists on how they could possibly improve their recovery program as the New Jersey PiPl population is not growing, with fewer and fewer each year retuning to nest. As you can see from the graph provided at the meeting, the Canadian recovery is going very poorly as well.

Readers will be interested to know that our region’s Crane Beach continues to have one of their best year’s ever. Trustees of Reservations Jeff Denoncour shared information on the latest census data from 2018 and Crane’s has a whopping 76 fledglings, with 25 more chicks still yet to fledge. Because of the huge success at Cranes Beach, the northeast region, of which we are a part, has fledged a total 136 of chicks in 2018, compared to 108 in 2017, and as I said, with more fledglings still to come! The northeast region encompasses Salisbury Beach to the Boston Harbor Islands.

Jeff noted that this year they had less predation by Great Horned Owls. Because of owl predation, several years ago Crane Beach gave up on the wire exclosures and now use electric fencing extensively. The Great Horned Owls learned that the Piping Plover adults were going in an out of the exclosures and began perching on the edge of the wire, picking off the adults as they were entering and exiting the exclosure.

Crane has an excellent crew of Trustees staff monitoring the Least Terns and Piping Plovers, as well as excellent enforcement by highly trained police officers. No dogs are allowed on Crane Beach during nesting season and dogs are prevented from entering at the guarded gate. As we saw from one of the graphics presented about nesting Double-crested Cormorants, when a dog runs through a nesting area, the adults leave the nest, temporarily leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation by crows, gulls, raptors, and owls.

Crane Beach Least Tern fledgling.

Compare the Least Tern to the Common Tern in the above photo. It’s easy to see why the birds are called Least Terns; they are North America’s smallest member of the tern and gull family (Crane Beach).

Another interesting bit of information shared–if you listen to our podcasts, back in April, we talked about the potential dilemma of what would happen if Snowy Owls remained on the beaches as the Piping Plovers returned from their winter grounds. Knowing that Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus) and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) are close cousins and that the Great Horned Owl eats Piping Plover chicks and adults, I was concerned that a Snowy might eat our PiPl. At one particular beach on Cape Cod, a Snowy stayed through mid-July. An adult Piping Plover skull was found in the owl’s pellet.

Snowy Owls remained in Massachusetts this year through July.

After attending the cooperators meeting, I am more hopeful than ever that our community can come together and solve the problems that are preventing our PiPl from successfully nesting and fledging chicks. What we have going in our favor is the sheer number of amazing super volunteers along with strong community-wide support.  

Piping Plover fully fledged and flying up and down the beach – we”ll have these next year, I am sure!

Two-Day-Old Least Tern Chicks

Clamoring for dinner, feed Me, feed Me!

In only one day’s time, you can see the teeny shorebirds gaining strength. As Dad approaches with dinner, the two-day-old Least Tern chicks stretch and flap their wings and open wide their beaks. The noisiest and flappiest is fed first. After depositing a minnow in one beak, off he flies to find dinner for the second sibling.

Camouflaged

The polka-dot fluff balls blend perfectly with the surrounding sand and rocks. The brilliant red inside the chicks mouth makes it easier for the adult terns to find them against the monochromatic pebbly beach habitat.

Waiting for dinner.

The tern parents will share feeding their chicks and fledglings non-stop for weeks; the chicks won’t be on their own for another two months.

For the first several days after hatching, Least Tern chicks keep fairly close to Mom in scooped out scrapes and natural divots in the sand, or well-hidden hidden behind rocks and beach vegetation.Tiny Least Tern Chick camouflaged in the sand, flanked by an adult Least Tern and Piping Plover male passing by (right).

The Rosetti’s Piping Plover fledglings (three) sharing the nesting site with the Least Tern Rosetti’s family.

GOOD MORNING! BROUGHT TO YOU BY GREAT BLUE HERONS STROLLING ON THE BEACH

The woman exercising was intent upon doing her workout and didn’t notice the Great Blues on the beach. It just struck me as so funny because they were nearly as tall as was she when their necks were elongated, and because a single Great Blue Heron strolling on the beach isn’t something you see everyday, let alone three.