There’s rat poison that kills eagles, hawks, pets, in a ‘horrific way.’ CT to try to limit or ban it

Rats and mice are a problem throughout Connecticut, but as exterminators use sophisticated poisons to control their populations, eagles, hawks and owls are among the victims, environmental and raptor-rehabilitation experts say.

Because so-called second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides are so deadly and so easily ingested by raptors and mammals such as foxes, opossums, squirrels, dogs and cats, legislation will be introduced this session to ban or limit them in Connecticut. They already are banned in California.

A similar bill passed the Environment Committee last year, but did not make it to a vote.

“Basically, the poison ends up getting into that food chain for a period of time and causing cascading damage to other animals,” said Chris Phelps, state director of Environment Connecticut in West Hartford.

“The primary concern that people are recognizing and seeing happening on a regular basis are poisonings and deaths of eagles, hawks, owls, raptors and birds that feed on mice to begin with,” he said.

“But also you have risks to household pets, dogs that might be very curious about these traps outside that they find and if they were to get into that place it would harm the animal.”

‘They came in actively dying’

Christine Cummings of A Place Called Hope in Killingworth, which rescues and rehabs raptors, said “A few years back, we started to notice an uptick in cases of secondary poisoning, where we were not as successful at treating or reversing what was happening to these birds with an anticoagulant.”

“Years back, we used to actually see some of them recover when we gave them vitamin K therapy. Not all of them, but some of them if we got them in on time, and then all of a sudden they started to not be treatable. They were too far gone. They came in actively dying.”

Cummings said the difference was the second-generation rodenticide vs. first-generation. She said 59 birds, especially great horned owls and red-tailed hawks, have tested positive for one of the ingredients in the second-generation rodenticide.

Other animals impacted included eagles, barred owls, red-shouldered hawks and ravens.

“It used to be more popular to use the first generation, which are also very bad, but they have a little more of a flexibility for us if we get the birds at a certain point before the damage is too far gone,” Cummings said. “So we’re not seeing any of these birds recover because of the more potent ingredients involved in second generation.”

Anticoagulants work by stopping the body from making and recycling vitamin K, which aids in clotting, Cummings said. That is the antidote, which works for children or pets.

“But when it comes to wildlife, there’s really no opportunity to reverse it because the predators that we have, all the wild animals, are not under human supervision. So basically, by the time they come down they are already actively dying,” she said.

Cummings said the first-generation anticoagulants required more poison to kill rats and other pests. Second-generation is more potent and is cheaper, but doesn’t kill as quickly so the animals, including birds, might ingest a second dose before they die.

She said a raven recently was brought to her.

“The bird was basically drowning in its own lungs with all the fluid … so there was nothing I could do,” Cummings said.

“I put it into an oxygen chamber with the hopes that we could calm things down and maybe reverse it. I gave it a vitamin K shot, but it was too late. The bird had blood all seeping underneath all of its skin tissue. … It’s a horrific way to die.”

“We just think that harming and killing the animals who naturally regulate rodent populations, such as raptors and mammals, makes no sense for Connecticut in terms of managing rats and mice,” said Nicole Rivard, editor in chief of Friends of Animals in Darien.

“There’s plenty of data out there to show that, like any kind of poison, a rodenticide is not the most effective way to manage the population anyways, because if you don’t address exclusion and sanitation, they’re just going to return,” she said. A mouse can enter a house through a hole the size of a dime, she said.

“The pesticide companies who are using these poisons, like bait boxes, are not going to talk about that because this is their bread and butter. They want to have to keep coming back to replace the bait boxes because that’s how they make their money,” she said.

Seal up those holes

The Environmental Protection Agency has banned the sale of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide from store shelves, but it’s still available on the internet, Cummings said.

“It’s the No. 1 tool in our exterminators’ toolkits because it is fast, it’s efficient,” she said. “It’s easy, it’s affordable. People don’t want to wait. It’s consumers who are demanding an immediate reaction.”

But unless the house is sealed up, more rodents will just be on the way, which is what exterminators who don’t take exclusion and sanitation measures count on, she said.

“Really all you’re doing there is killing the mice as they come in,” Phelps said. “Well, there’s going to be new mice who come in after you’re sticking your thumb in the proverbial dike, hypothetically, if you do it that way.”

“Clean up the food source, the water source, clean up the nesting material, then most likely at that point you’re going to eliminate most of your problem,” Cummings said.

Holes must be sealed up, limbs near the house must be cut away and mesh covers should be put over pipes and dryer vents, she added.

Also, there are alternatives such as fertility-control products, “natural ingredients that are safe for predators to consume after the animal, the mouse or the rat has ingested it,” Cummings said. “So it’s actually knocking back the population to a more manageable number. Instead of making them sterile where they can’t have babies, it knocks back their ability to be as productive or prolific.”

Phelps said one aim is to “refocus, if you will, the efforts of everyone from homeowners to exterminators to everyone … on finding less harmful, less damaging, if you will, solutions to problems such as eradicating rodent infestations. This isn’t about not dealing with your mouse problem. This is about really making sure that we’re dealing with problems like that in a way that doesn’t cause yet more additional problems.”

‘Find a solution that works for the state ‘

Jason Landon, owner of Ellington Family Pest and Termite Elimination, said he does use second-generation anticoagulants but that they’re safer than the first generation.

“A lot of pest-control companies are misusing the products,” he said. “They’re using basically the wrong products, the wrong tools for the wrong jobs. And that’s because it’s a cost thing.”

He said if the second-generation products were banned, “I personally don’t think I would have too many issues to continuing to be successful in my industry.”

“We would just alter our treatment methods,” he said. “We’d be using a lot more complex integrated pest management,” although he said he does seal entry points now as well.

Integrated pest management includes “the use of mechanical devices, traps, glue boards, the use of exclusion, all of these items,” Landon said. “Sealing holes. It’s not just about putting out material in customers’ houses, and it’s a magic bullet. It’s about using other means to control mice and rats and so on.”

Landon said he hasn’t seen a major increase in rodent populations but that a mild winter can cause rats and mice to increase.

“Each colony can squeeze one more litter of pups per year per season,” he said. “That’s a tremendous amount. If you multiply it across all of the city and all of the rats, if each borough produces more rats, I mean, clearly it’s going to be a huge uptick.”

State Rep. Joseph Gresko, D-Stratford, co-chairman of the Environment Committee, said, “I’m anticipating that we’re going to do something that was going to try to protect our birds of prey and also your foxes and coyotes and the like.”

He said the bill last year failed to make it to a vote for lack of time. He said he’s been preparing by talking to experts in California and at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

Gresko said this year’s bill will at least attempt to limit the use of second-generation anticoagulants, in which companies or people use them indiscriminately.

“I think we’re going to go down the road of trying to curtail their use in such a manner that, I like to say or call it the scorched-earth method, where you get called in and instead of using a scalpel, you just spread this stuff everywhere, and it has unintended consequences,” he said.

“One of the examples I give is if I … ran out and beat a bald eagle to death with a baseball bat, I would be liable,” Gresko said. “I would be probably in jail and getting prosecuted, but instead I can go and poison its food and I’m OK. So we got to find a happy medium.”

Phelps said, “I think there’s hope too from advocates, working on stakeholders who are engaged in this to come back and find an opportunity to do legislation on the topic this year, building on that effort last year to find a solution that works for the state going forward.”

Ed Stannard can be reached at