Wildlife Group Urges an End to Rodenticide

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 31, 2023

Got pesky mice scampering about every time you go into your garage? Tired of finding little black specs of droppings everywhere in the garage, or maybe even inside your house?

As troublesome as these little buggers might be, if you poison them it could do more harm than good when predators — especially birds of prey — catch and gobble them down.

Pacific Wildlife Care is sending out a message to everyone, urging people to not use poison — called “rodenticide” — to get rid of rodents.

Kelly Vandenheuvel, one of PWC’s long-time raptor rehabbers and original volunteers, asked Estero Bay News to help spread the word about the dangers of introducing poisons into the environment.

Vandenheuvel recently posted a really cute photo of a brood of five fledgling barn owls born and raised in her barn that her neighbor, Paul Adreano, took and the photo got such great response, she asked EBN to do a story. 

Vandenheuvel said she talks about the dangers of rodenticides when she and other volunteer rehabbers do educational presentations at schools and community organizations, but school children could be a little young to truly understand how devastating poisons can be to other animals higher up the food chain.

And while her specialty is birds of prey — owls, hawks and eagles — other predators also have mice on their menus.

“Sadly, a large percentage of raptors do not survive their first year for various reasons,” she wrote on Morro Bay Next Door. “One of the main ones is rodenticide. People use poisons to kill rodents, and inadvertently end up killing our raptors, who eat the rodents that have been poisoned.”

Unfortunately, when a mouse (or rat) ingests this poison, it doesn’t kill them immediately, as a snapping mousetrap does. Often the mice crawl away and back into their holes to die but sometimes predators find them first. And whatever a mouse ate is in turn ingested by the predator.

In addition to raptors like these barn owls, other species that hunt and eat field mice include foxes, bobcats, snakes, coyotes and even cats.

Some other non-raptor birds might also occasionally catch and eat mice, including great blue herons, and great white egrets.

“There is no need for us to use poisons ever,” Vandenheuvel said.

And God forbid, such poisons can also be ingested by unsuspecting people, especially young children, who often put things into their mouths that they shouldn’t. 

Just touching something with poison on it can be harmful. Suffice it to say that poisons are very dangerous and adults should carefully control their use and storage. 

According to the National Poison Control Center’s website, their 55 poison control centers nationwide received 2.08 million emergency calls in 2021 of someone being exposed to poisons. That comes to about 6.1 poisonings for every 1,000 people in the U.S. 

Some 37 children under-6 out of every 1,000 were exposed and there is one case of poison exposure reported to the poison control centers every 15 seconds.

“In 2021,” reads the Poison Control Center website, “there were 627 poison exposures reported per 100,000 population. The highest incidence occurred in one and 2-year olds, with 6,439 and 5,997 exposures per 100,000 children in the respective age groups. For teens, 640 exposures per 100,000 population were reported.” (Note: not all exposure incidents result in deaths nor are ingestion of poison chemicals the biggest reason people call).

Percentage-wise, in 2021 adults comprised 43% of all exposures; children under-6 represented 41%; and teens comprised 9%.

And also in 2021, 75.5% of all poisonings were unintentional; 19.3% were intentional; and 3.1% were “adverse reactions” to some (prescription) drug.

Some 62,180 calls came in about animals being poisoned with just 4,974 found to not be poison-related after all. 

In 2021, they also got 25,569 calls asking to identify drugs that have been ingested, and 677,517 calls seeking information.

“In children younger than 6,” the website said, “99% of exposures were unintentional compared to only 29.1% of teen exposures and 64% of adult exposures.” 

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, “Rodents, humans, dogs and cats are all mammals, so our bodies work in very similar ways. Rodenticides have the same effect when eaten by any mammal. They can also affect birds.”

Most of these rodenticides are formulated “as baits, which are designed to attract animals,” the National Pesticide Information Center said. “Flavorings may include fish oil, molasses or peanut butter. Baits used in agriculture and natural areas may contain ground meat, vegetables, grains, or fruits. These may be attractive to children and pets, so they should never be used or stored within their reach. Tamper-resistant bait stations make it even more difficult for accidents to happen.”

But a tamper-proof trap baited with poison, if it works as designed, will affect the rodents — which include mice, rats, squirrels, woodchuck, chipmunks, porcupines, nutria and even beavers — as well as all the critters that feed on them.

So what’s the alternative to poison? Vandenheuvel said owls are a great one. “These five barn owls,” she said, “are an army of rodent hunters getting ready to do their job. One barn owl can eat 10 to 15 mice per night.”

She pleaded with everyone to be mindful of the chemicals you let loose on Mother Nature. “Please allow nature to take care of our environment,” she wrote on Next Door, “and do the work for us. Please do not use rodenticides.”

Pacific Wildlife Care is a non-profit organization that rehabilitates wild animals — mostly birds and small mammals — that are sick, injured or orphaned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. It is one of just a handful of wildlife organizations licensed by State Fish & Wildlife to respond to oil spills to rescue oiled birds, but will also take in most other creatures that people either bring in to their triage center at the Morro Bay Power Plant property, or you can call their hotline at: 805-543-9453 (WILD) to report sick or injured animals. Volunteer rescuers will respond to assess the situation.

PWC is a non-profit organization surviving on donations. See the website at: pacificwildlifecare.org for more information and to volunteer or donate to the cause.

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