Save the Owls: Why You Should Not Use Rat Poison in Bernal Heights

great horned owl, now appearing daily in bernal heights

Sad news from our neighborhood neighbors in Glen Park: A Great-Horned Owl that lived in their park died suddenly in November. An autopsy revealed the beautiful bird died after eating a rodent laced with rat poison:

Examined at WildCare and necropsied (autopsied) at/by the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System, his body was found to be reasonably nourished (he had part of a rodent in his stomach), but was otherwise internally toxic, diffusely discolored and badly hemorrhaged throughout. He had died of “presumptive AR intoxication,” anticoagulant rodenticide poisoning. That meant that he had eaten poisoned rodents. Great Horned Owls consume 10% of their body weight every day, equal to approximately five medium rodents. A Great Horned Owl family with babies will eat considerably more.

It is very sad to have lost this owl. The people who found Patient #1709 generously paid for the necropsy. They and their neighbors are particularly concerned about a pair of Great Horned Owls who live in the same neighborhood, and have watched them nest there every year for ten years. They are worried that deceased Patient #1709 may have been one of that pair.

Commonly available rodenticides are consumed by rodents, the basic food source for a number of different predators all the way up the food chain. These poisons kill by making whatever animal eats them bleed to death internally – slowly and painfully. While the poisoned animals – targeted or not – are still alive, they can be consumed by other predators. It is a terrifying prospect; to kill many animals while targeting only one.

For the purpose of this release we include not only San Francisco media, but also the specific neighborhoods of Glen Park (where Great Horned Owl Patient #1709 was found), West Portal, Diamond Heights and Noe Valley to help them protect the remaining owls – and any other animals that could eat poisoned rodents there.

It’s strange that Bernal Heights wasn’t included in the alert, because Great Horned Owls have settled on Bernal Hill too, and not all that long ago. It would be swell to have them again. So the lesson stands: Please don’t use rat poison, unless you like killing magnificent owls at the same time.

PHOTO: Great Horned Owl on Bernal Hill, 2007. Photo by Art Siegel

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12 Responses to Save the Owls: Why You Should Not Use Rat Poison in Bernal Heights

  1. Thank you for posting about this. It’s very important that people know the greater effects of using pesticides like rat poison. Really, the most humane thing to do with rats or mice is the old fashioned spring-set rat trap. It’s significantly more humane and there’s less likelihood that other animals will be harmed. We really need to do whatever we can to help the great horned owls. If we had more of them, we’d have less rats!

  2. That is sad. BTW I and another neighbor spotted one owl recently in Holly Park. No photo unfortunately.

  3. GreenGirl says:

    That’s so sad. I have never used rat/mouse poison before. I had a hard time using traps, but as a last resort I do. Sorry SF lost an owl. :-( I’m always keeping an eye out for them at Holly Park and haven’t seen one yet. Guess I need to venture to Glen Park or Bernal Hill. I hope we don’t lose anymore.

  4. tinnyworld says:

    Awww the poor owls. A few months ago I bought a charity pot from lush. They put money towards different causes. And one of them was to help these owls that burrow and make tunnels. So the money was going to make the tunnels for them. There’s was also one to save the tigers. I did a paper on the Terai Arc Landscape in India and Nepal for an enviornmental politics class. It was pretty interesting. I just wish I could get more involved, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. :-/

    • Kelle says:

      Come volunteer at WildCare! You can work in the hospital or help with administrative duties, outreach or with advocacy; there are dozens of things you can do to help. WildCare is holding our annual volunteer orientation coming up in January, details are on the website. Thanks!

  5. Ces says:

    That’s really sad. I had my first Great Horned Owl sighting the Friday after Thanksgiving on a hike in Tennessee Valley in Marin. It was dusk and the beautiful owl swooped down from a Cypress tree and flew past me at eye level. The owl turned his head and stared at me as if he was saying hello. Luckily I had my binoculars in tow and was able to observe the owl for the next 20 minutes as it performed several more low to the ground dives, clearly hunting for rodents. They are the most equipped predators in the world, I mean who wouldn’t want to have the ability to fly silently, have amazing night vision, incredible hearing and have no real predators outside of humans and other owls. A truly memorable experience!

  6. Judge Crater says:

    My dog has been treated for poisoning twice since Labor Day. Most likely suspects are rat poison or snail bait.

  7. Beth Devener says:

    I saw a Great Horned Owl about a week ago at 7:30 pm. He/she swooped down so beautifully and quietly on the roof of my neighbors house at 1435 Shotwell. at Montezuma. It was a sight to behold, I posted on Yahoo Mirabel neighbor group to alert my neighbors, never thought about the rat poison angle, but will pass the word on. Thanks~Beth

  8. jeannie stone says:

    It’s not only owls that get poisoned – recently my two precious kittens were poisoned by what we believe was probably rat poison – they suffered terribly (but amazingly survived) and we implore our Bernal neighbors to PLEASE not use rat poison. Traps are the way to go folks!

  9. jeannie stone says:

    Just a thought – maybe we can persuade local retailers i.e. Cole, Lowes etc. to NOT carry rat poison?

  10. Jaime Ross says:

    how about getting the SF Rat Patrol (AKA Health Dept) to take care of the ever growing rat population living under the burger king parking lot on Mission Street near St Lukes?
    not too long ago my partner was walking across the parking lot in the afternoon and she saw at least 3 rodents (the size of a large cat). i called the Health Dept immediately and sent pictures of about 10 rat holes at the rear of the lot.
    the only thing they were willing to do was to talk the BK owner and ask him to put a better lid on his garbage . they said the problem was too big to deal with. – they have rat traps there now that’s supposed to kill the rats immediately so’s not to allow predators like big birds to eat them since they die in their lairs.
    but we still see the rats walking around during the day

  11. I’ve seen great horned owls around the hill many times.

    Once, on Powhattan, my girlfriend and I even saw a ghostly barn owl land on a lamp post! That was very cool!

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