Bald Eagles are Dying. Rat Poison is to Blame.  

The death of a Bald Eagle this week after ingesting rat poison is a heartbreaking reminder that we are overdue for critically-needed changes to pest control policies to limit the use of these poisons.  

This is now the third bald eagle death due to rodenticides in Massachusetts in two years. 

Bald Eagle in a Tree
© John Derbort

Why Is This Happening? 

Anticoagulant rodenticides  kill rodents by preventing blood from clotting, causing the animal to die from internal bleeding. These poisons can have unintended victims when wildlife, like hawks, owls, eagles, or foxes, eat prey that has consumed the bait.  

Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs ) are especially problematic because they don’t kill rodents immediately. Rodents poisoned with SGARs can still live for a few days and consume more poisoned bait during that time; the delay means they can ingest enough poison to kill a much larger animal.  Rodents weakened by poison make easy prey, and some wildlife such as eagles also consume dead animals, where the poison lingers. 

Aren’t These Poisons Regulated? 

SGARs have been banned by the EPA from the consumer market, but licensed exterminators are still allowed to deploy them. Other rodenticides, called first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and non-anticoagulant rodenticides, are still approved for residential consumer use.

The issue of wildlife becoming the unintended victims of these poisons is a growing problem. Nearly every raptor species is vulnerable to rodenticide poisoning. For example, a 2020 study found that 100% of tested Red-tailed Hawks at Tufts Wildlife Clinic had been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. Secondary poisoning has also been documented in species like foxes, bobcats, and coyotes. SGARs are a threat to eagle populations nationally  

The irony is that the more these predator species are harmed or killed by SGARs, the fewer predators there are to keep rat populations in check. Rodents breed much faster than predators. When predators are killed off by poisons, the rodent population can multiply even more quickly.  

Other Options to Control Rodents 

With rat populations on the rise, many communities are seeking effective pest control measures. Fortunately, we have many poison-free options for preventing and addressing rodent problems. The most important preventative measure is eliminating food sources and entry points: securing trash in rodent-proof containers and sealing holes in building foundations to exclude rats and other pests.   

To kill rodents, traps can be used without harming other wildlife. If the situation necessitates hiring a pest control company, choosing one that fully utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can also have a big impact in reducing widespread pesticide use. IPM relies on a series of pest management evaluations, and its strategies can include trapping, sealing up entry holes in foundations, walls, and roofs, and removing or trimming vegetation that obscures the ground.  When hiring a licensed pest control company, specifically request that poisons not be used and ask for confirmation of that on your written agreement with the company. 

We also need laws to regulate the pesticides that do continue to be used. Mass Audubon and our partners are advocating for the passage of An Act relative to pesticides. This legislationwould better regulate the use of SGARs, in turn reducing their impacts on birds of prey and other wildlife. The bill would:  

  • Increase use of IPM strategies in Massachusetts  
  • Educate consumers about the benefits of IPM and impacts of SGARs  
  • Require digitization of pesticide use forms, making them more accessible and searchable  

Speak Up for Wildlife 

An Act relative to pesticides had a strong chance to pass last year when the House and Senate reached a consensus on the bill’s content, but was a casualty of an end-of-year logjam in the state legislature, falling just a few procedural votes short of passage. This was a huge missed opportunity, so we need to rebuild momentum now to ensure it passes as soon as possible. 

Urge your state legislators  to support An Act relative to pesticides (S.487/H.725) today! By improving our approaches to pest management, we can reduce the need for rodenticides at their source and prevent more senseless wildlife deaths.  

12 thoughts on “Bald Eagles are Dying. Rat Poison is to Blame.  

  1. Tom Allen

    The eagle, MK, in the linked report was a resident of my neighborhood. My wife and I watched her and her mate, KZ, build their first nest just a couple of doors down the street. They later moved to the new nest in the Arlington cemetery and fledged a couple of broods over the last 2 years. They continued to frequent our area and we would see them regularly. The loss of MK is like a death in the family. We and others on our street are devastated.

  2. Alison

    Thanks for your article, this topic has been on my mind. Please give us more details about IPM alternatives we can suggest to our local authorities to use for rodent control, thanks. Our city has a lot of rodents, so they feel pressured, and need data to educate them that inadvertently poisoning rodents’ predators will get in the way of a long term solution.
    If you offer a template letter for our legislators, I suspect you will get more participants. One always means to write independently, but often doesn’t. I am very good at personalizing sample letters, though 🙂

    1. Elizabeth

      I agree it would be great to have a template, giving sample wording for a message to our legislators.

  3. Robert F. Dunning Jr.

    Please help stop the use of anticoagulant pesticides that are killing many unintended victims.

  4. Catherine Carney-Feldman

    Human actions are taking a toll on wildlife all over our planet. We must take responsibility for these actions and correct them. We know that rat poisons is killing eagles. We need to stop using this lethal poison.

  5. Walter Crockett

    It’s one thing to suggest that people use a firm that employs integrated pest management. It’s quite another thing to find such a firm. I pretty good at Googling and I have not found one in Central Massachusetts. Where are they listed? Where is the accredited list of companies that do this?

    I had a serious rat problem outside doing to a bird feeder, and my pest control guy uses those black boxes that the animals have to so into to get the pesticide out. He also uses similar boxes (smaller) inside for mice. I assume he must be using the most deadly stuff he can find because he’s definitely old school. So anything in these boxes is likely to kill birds?

  6. Natasha(Natalie) Grigg

    As a “farmer” and an owner of chickens and horses, we have had and currently have rat “problems”. We have learned to live with them A few years ago, there was a major infestation and we hired an exterminator. Anti-coagulants were used and the rats died as well as a barn cat who ate a dying rat. The rats are back and now we manage differently. All chicken food is removed at night and we clean the coop on a daily basis. While we still have some rats, it’s manageable. We can live with them. They are extremely intelligent. Yesterday the NY Times had a long and interesting article about the ethics of killing rats.

  7. Cheryl Studley-Straut

    I am a member of Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Mass Audubon, and Trustees of Reservations and I care about birds and nature, please endorse the bill: An Act relative to pesticides (SD1144).

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