Conservationists, Animal Lovers Urge Locals to Discontinue Rat Poison


Rat-Poisonby Jerika L.H.

The Hungry Owl Project is campaigning in full swing to remind the community of the impact that rat poison has on local animal populations. Many people use rat poison to rid their homes of unwanted critters with little or no knowledge on the dire outcome this can have for local wildlife.

In fact, putting out rat poison might even be strengthening rodent populations over time because it ultimately begins to kill off the rat’s natural prey. When a rat ingests poison, it takes several days for it to take effect and die. In that time, the rat becomes weakened and is even more susceptible to predators.

When they are picked up by a bird of prey, the animal absorbs all of the poison and brings its back to its young. Once the rat has been digested, the poison starts to do its damage on the adult owl and its babies. Scientists have noted that animals who ingest the poison second hand often bleed to death from stomach hemorrhages – a particularly slow and painful way to go.

The active chemical in the anti-rodent products is an anti-coagulant which prevents an animal’s blood from clotting. As rat poisons are becoming extra-potent in recent years, they have been responsible for the rising death toll of countless unintended wildlife.

In 2012, 79.1% of raptors (owls, hawks etc) and other rodent consuming wildlife that were tested by our local wildlife hospital, WildCare, were found positive for secondary rodenticide poisoning.

Researchers from Canada, the United States and Europe indicate that the newer class of rat poisons, like Havoc, Talon, Contrac, Maki, Ratimus and d-CON Mouse Pruf, are killing a variety of wild animals, including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, skunks, deer, squirrels, possums and raccoons, along with bald eagles, golden eagles, owls, hawks and vultures.

Many of these are the natural beneficial predators of rats. As their numbers begin to thin, rats are able to populate with less threat and increase in numbers, thus making rat poison counterproductive in the long run. That is, while rat poison might kill a rat in one dose, it prevents the natural predation that keeps rats from becoming overpopulated. In fact, according to the Hungry Owl Project, a single poisoned rodent can kill an entire owl family. Every dead owl is replaced by hundreds of thousands of rats.

Apart from just owls and other wildlife, domestic animals often fall victims to this painful cause of death. UC Davis-trained veterinarian Ilana Zuckerman can attest to the unintended dangers of rat poison and the impacts they have on our beloved pets. “Rat poison is a huge problem in small animal emergency medicine. It is sweet and meant to attract the parasites but attracts dogs and cats as well. We have treated numerous cases this summer already, some from eating rat bait from a box and others from eating animals that have been poisoned then crawl into the pet’s yard. The owners often don’t notice right away so we see them when it is too late to do anything.”

As of now, the only effective intervention is prevention. The Hungry Owl Projects seeks to inform people about the importance of seeking natural remedies as opposed to store-bought solutions that threaten the environment.

Alex Godbe founded the Hungry Owl Project in 2001 after an eye-opening internship at a Marin County-based Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center, where she was shocked to learn of the number of owls suffering from poisoning after eating rodents that had been exposed to rodent poison. She was inspired to educate people about the counterproductive nature of rodent poison, since many people don’t realize that a simple and convenient $10 drug store purchase could lead to the demise of hundreds of unintended animals.

Godbe expands, “A family of Barn Owls in a 4 month breeding cycle can consume up to 3,000 rodents. Along with the fact that any owls that survived the secondary poisoning were being released back into the same unsafe habitat, I decided I wanted to do something. The Hungry Owl Project was ‘hatched’ with a mission to educate the public about the devastating effects that rodent poison plays in the environment, as well as provide solutions that includes encouraging beneficial predators like barns owls to provide a natural means of effective low cost pest control. The human impact on wildlife is well known, whether it is the global mass habitat loss or the pollution from chemicals we spew out or from the indiscriminate use of rodent poison, herbicides and pesticides – the question is how can each one of us help reverse these threats. It can be as simple as a choice to go ‘green’ whenever possible. Look for safe alternatives for weed and pest control, join conservation groups to protect local habitat, leave parts of your property wild. Protect the trees that provide habitat for many nesting birds including hawks and owls. Encourage beneficial predators like barn owls to your property for rodent control by installing nest boxes. “

Yolo County is home to a number of owl species, predominantly barn owls and great-horned owls. The local barn owl population in Davis was last estimated to be in healthy numbers, despite an alarmingly steep global population decline.  This is likely due to the extensive volunteer work of numerous local conservation groups, ornithologists, and concerned citizens. You may have noticed the abundance of large wooden boxes perched in trees around downtown Davis.

This effort was made as an attempt to provide adequate artificial nesting cavities – a task that the Hungry Owl project also undertakes in rural areas. The majestic owls have even become a highlight of the community, as many enjoy seeing them nest or soar overhead in search of a snack. Interestingly, barn owls are able to zero into the location of prey in total darkness because of their immaculate hearing.

The barn owl was often historically regarded as a white ghost due to its silent manner of flight, although it has been known to give off the occasional screech. Its eerily quiet movements allow it to hear the slightest sounds made by its rodent prey hidden in deep vegetation while it is flying several feet overhead.

Alex Godbe notes that we have all the reason in the world to be enamored with our local owls. “These amazing little birds have been the farmer’s ally for hundreds of years. The important role of these owls along with other owls, hawks and other predators play in the environment is crucial for a natural and safe balance.  Protecting them helps maintain a healthy planet and essentially ourselves.”

For more information on the Hungry Owl Project, or to join local efforts in owl conservation, please visit


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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24 thoughts on “Conservationists, Animal Lovers Urge Locals to Discontinue Rat Poison”

  1. Tia Will

    Thanks Jerika for an interesting article which has much broader implications for how human convenience can have unintended consequences on other plants and animals important for the maintenance of a balanced and healthy environment.

      1. Marina Kalugin

        my tiny cat, runt of the family, does though….last year a momma turkey and baby showed up roosting in the neighbor trees…..they came on our roof only a few times.

        neighbors fed them….thank god they finally left, but not after a tussle with our little puss…

  2. Alan Miller

    This is stupid and tragic.  As not understandable to me as why anyone doesn’t spay/neuter.  I would never consider rat poison.  I’m surprised that it is still available.  I had a rat invasion and it is horrific, but I set traps, not poison.  Still horrific, but poison?  Who in there right mind would use rat poison?

  3. Tia Will


    Who in there right mind would use rat poison?”

    Perhaps someone who has simply never considered the full consequence of their actions ? Thus the need for ongoing education and reminders.

  4. Marina Kalugin

    WOW..  Thank you Jerika.  Finally a topic around which all sides can get behind on the correct side.

    There are plenty of “barn cats” around who need homes….spay, neuter and let them have at it.

    UCD uses rat poison in the labs. then the rats chew threw the new plastic tubing desperate for water, and the ceilings in the old building cave in – affecting multi-million dollar research equipment….not kidding….

    Rat poison, aka coumadin, is also used regularly by US MDs as a “standard” therapy for  many people to “prevent strokes”….the kind of MDs who are “traditional” and not “functional medicine” MDs… who couldn’t find a cause if they looked for it…..with horrific effects on the health of the human populace as well.

    I would ban it completely for animals regardless of what kind…


  5. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    I used to use rat poison and I did not stop because of its environmental hazards. I changed methods because A) if rats eat poison they will inevitably die and decompose in a wall cavity and for a week or so my home will have to suffer the consequent putrescence; and B) I found a much better method.

    The better method is several large Victor rat traps, each baited with a single peanut in the shell. This works much, much better than peanut butter* or cheese or other foods which go bad. For about $2 you can buy a bag of unroasted, unsalted peanuts in their shells that will last a year or more. You don’t need to refrigerate them. Just put the bag in your pantry.

    It’s worth watching a Youtube video to see how best to safely set a Victor rat trap. (Doing it wrong will either end up with the trap not in position to kill the rat or possibly hurting your fingers when it closes.) On each rat trap there is a small hook where the bait goes. Before you set the trap, you want to drive part of the peanut shell into that hook. After that, take the trap to where you have seen the rats or found evidence of them — for example, in your attic or garage floor, etc. At that point, set your traps and carefully place them.

    My experience is, when I set three traps in a problem area, I will catch one rat every other day or so for several days. In a week to 10 days all the rats in the clan are dead and the problem is solved. Because I don’t care for the putrid odor, I check my traps every day when I have them baited. I also recommend using latex kitchen gloves when you have a dead rat and need to free him from the trap. I drop the dead rat into a plastic bag, tie the top of that, and drop it in my DWR garbage can. I’ve never had an odor problem with a dead rat disposed of that way, but I suppose you could double bag the remains if you are worried.

    FWIW, Tractor Supply Co. in Dixon has the best prices on Victor rat traps.

    *Most people seem to use peanut butter. I can say from experience with Davis rats, they much prefer a peanut in a shell. They want to take that bait back to their den. Peanut butter may attract them, but it is not something they normally eat. And because the shell of the peanut can be secured to the hook, the success rate of actually killing the rat that tries to remove the shell is nearly 100%. With peanut butter some rats can eat it off the trap and walk away unharmed.

    1. Napoleon Pig IV


      Thanks for the clear and complete explanation. Your comment helps to make this article useful rather than something to be noted and ignored. Excellent service to your fellow humans and other creatures (except rats, of course).

  6. Marina Kalugin

    Good advice…people have different reasons for changing their habits….we got a barn cat at a garage sale some years ago…the kittens got homes and this mama was going to be left behind…  of course, she would capture them outside and bring them in to show off….not what we had in mind…

  7. Tia Will

    Just one cautionary note about Rich’s advice. If you are going to use later gloves, be very careful that if you develop even the slightest irritation on the backs of your hands from using them, it is time to switch to non latex and inform any medical personnel of your allergy.  Also I recommend keeping the gloves in a well ventilated area. For the truly susceptible, inhalation of even a minute amount of latex may be enough to trigger anaphylactic shock. Which brings up the question, do you use boxed or single use gloves ?  If using boxed, be especially careful when opening. I don’t know if any manufacturers still powder their latex gloves, but if so, best avoid.

    1. Marina Kalugin

      they do according to what I see around in our labs…but I don’t think anyone uses latex gloves in our labs anymore either….

      I am sure that whatever the “dust” is….well…whatever they use now, is also going to be banned  aka the many other “dusts”  like asbestos, baby powder, et al.

      Fortunately, my old school methods and upbringing did not include dusting and such on babies…as a result, no rashes either….

      use neoprene and wash well….stay away from antibacterial and leave in the sun to dry…

  8. Alan Miller

    Rich, do you have any advice on how to kill rats, if necessary?  When I was trapping, a couple of times I found live, injured rats in the traps, suffering.  I won’t describe my attempts to kill them, but none were optimal.  I don’t like to cause needless suffering, even in rats.  Any advice?

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      Alan, I can only speak from my experience: Each time I have trapped a rat in a Victor rat trap — not a mouse trap — the bar which snaps closed has killed them. I presume it was a quick death. The key is to have the bait really hooked in, so when the rat goes to get it, his head is completely over the trap, and then the bar will kill him when it snaps. That bar is very strong and violent. That is why I recommend looking at a Youtube video on how to set it safely. If you get your fingers in the way, that bar could seriously hurt a person (though I doubt it would break a bone).

      1. Alan Miller

        Yuk.  Not sure I’m glad I brought this up.  I tried two of the methods of death and found neither clean nor quick.

        Tried the Zapper.  Very expensive and got two rats, while the cheap Victors got the whole rest of the colony.

        Perhaps RR is correct about lodging the peanut.

  9. Janet Krovoza

    Thanks for the great piece, Jerika.  Heartening to see so much support for using other methods to control rats (blocking entrances and maintaining a sanitary environment are a big help, also).   We are making some progress locally: at the behest of a small group of staff and avian scientists, UCD is moving to implement a campus-wide Integrated Pest Management Plan to reduce (and ideally eliminate) its reliance on rodenticides; the Davis Food Co-Op has said it is forsaking poison for mechanical traps and exclusion; and the City of Davis has also committed to not using poison.

    Next spring, Richard Bloom’s Assembly Bill 2596, which would ban the use of rodenticides state-wide (except for ag and public health crises), will be reintroduced (it was pulled at the last minute this spring to allow for more data collection). In the meantime, in addition to not using rat poison personally, please ask property managers, landlords, etc. with whom you have contact to switch from poison to mechanical traps.  Professionally placed bait boxes, a ubiquitous feature in nearly every urban setting, are the source of most secondary poisoning, and likely were responsible for the deaths of the two great horned owls found by Davis friends on separate occasions this winter.  In both instances, the CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife found multiple rodenticides in their bodies.  (I believe a group of students from Birch Lane will be addressing the Davis City Council about one of these birds  tonight.)

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