Friday, March 30, 2007

Lola Sticks Tight and John Blakeman on Bromadialone

Lola stands. Airing the eggs?

She preens.

She checks the eggs.

And she's down again...Sticking tight.

The Response to Katherine Herzog's questions from the remarkable and I must say speedy answering John Blakeman:


I've never encountered a raptor poisoned by bromadialone. I know only what I can read about this anticoagulant rodenticide in a common Google search.

It seems clear that raptors that consistently consume rats or mice being killed with the chemical can accumulate it and suffer secondary effects and death. I'm not impressed with the field safety of the material in regard to raptors that would capture and consume rats ailing from the poison. A single consumed rat wouldn't likely cause any lingering problem. But a hawk consistently taking poisoned rats would likely suffer.

I think there is one mitigating factor, at least for diurnal (day-active) red-tails. A rat slowly bleeding to death from bromadialone is not so likely to be out walking around in daylight where a hawk could capture it. Most afflicted rats are likely to curl up in some typical wall, attic, sewer pipe, or other typical rat haunt while suffering.

If a dead rat were to be fully exposed, a red-tail will often drop down and take the animal. But I doubt that many dead or dying rats are out in the open where an NYC red-tail could take them.

Our red-tails spend most of their hunting time looking for inattentive pigeons and fully exposed and vulnerable squirrels and rats.

Lastly, if the Central Park red-tails were poisoned in any way, their behaviors would change discernibly. They would become sullen and inactive, revealing reduced energy and activity.

And I don't think Lola's increased sitting time reflects any of this. There is an outside chance---very outside this early in the game---that she has begun to detect minute muscular vibrations of developing eyasses. Perhaps there are some viable embryos this year and she's contributing increased maternal efforts toward their maturity.

Let's hope, anyway.

--John Blakeman

Everybody has their fingers crossed on this end let me tell you.

Crossed fingers are for luck, right? Which brings to mind one of the many conversations that occur around The Bench, as to just why Pale Male hasn't succumbed to a poisoned rat in all these years. (Knock wood.)

One speaker's opinion was that he was just incredibly lucky. Luck certainly is helpful and I'm not saying that Pale Male doesn't have luck, but might there well be something more to it than that?
Is is just lucky that he doesn't have much of a taste for rats? Which he doesn't of course. One rarely sees Pale Male eating a rat. Nor does he bring them to Lola on the nest that often after the gift giving phase of breeding is over. Evidently Lola does have a taste for mammals as rats and squirrels are the bulk of Pale Male's pre-copulation gifts most years. And come to think of it why hasn't Lola, the red meat eater, succumbed? (Knock wood.)

Having watched Pale Male for some years now, it's extremely apparent to me that he is one very smart, very experienced, and very urban-savvy Red-tail. And Red-tails being generalists, learn from experience. It's not just all wired in and that's that.

A couple of seasons ago, I arrived at the Bench and asked about the hawks earlier doings of the day. Lola had been perched on a branch with a rat. Pale Male arrived and started to beg for a bite like an eyass would. Evidently proper manners when wanting to eat off of someone else's plate in Hawk World.
Now this does occur sometimes in early Spring, possibly as part of the budding courtship. And I know of one case where Pale Male begged for a bite of squirrel and Lola just picked it up and flew away with it. But in this case I was told he was extremely insistent and got rather puffed up and even slightly threatening. Not his usual at all. Besides being a polite hawk, Lola is bigger than he is, and it was her rat. Evidently she got the message and backed off a bit. Pale Male came over, looked at the rat, took the tiniest of bites, paused head down and then flew away. The anecdote teller laughed and jokingly said,"He looked like her taster."

This got me to thinking. Does Pale Male somehow know if it's a "bad" rat?

John Blakeman is right of course that few rats, poisoned or not, appear in the daytime. And a poisoned rat is likely to be out of sight somewhere, but it does take several doses usually to kill a rat and if you do see a rat in the open in full daylight it's 99% positive it's a poisoned rat. Especially with the anticoagulant poisons, the rats, usually the young ones, come out into the open to look for water...but they don't act like a normal rat. Is it possible that for whatever reason Pale Male knows not to eat them?
First of all they're out in the full daylight. Second they aren't sticking to cover. And third they tend to "act funny". They bumble around, stagger, and just look weird. Now, if I can tell that they're "acting funny", you know Pale Male, master of many edible specie's behavior, can tell too.

As a young hawk did he get a touch of poison from a "funny acting" rat? Did the rat also taste a little "funny"? Smell a little "funny"? So he didn't eat much, but even so he felt really bad for awhile. Lost his appetite for rat in general but also His Nibs now wouldn't eat a weird rat even if he were starving. Therefore why would he give his mate or his young weird rat? He wouldn't even want it in his beak. Yuck.
Now, thinking that he was actually tasting Lola's rat for poison may be a bit far fetched but it did get me thinking. And hey, one should never sell Pale Male short as we've learned over and over again. Come on, just who figured out how to hunt pigeons for instance?
Okay, you say, he's not a person for goodness sake, he's not intellectualizing this whole thing. He's a hawk! They don't make those kinds of connections. Maybe, maybe not. But as a very small child, I once was hit with a stomach churning virus after eating a bowl of chili. Now it turned out that it was a virus not food poisoning, other people got it at the same time who hadn't eaten the chili. But for me as a three year old, an age not big on intellectualizing or correctly putting two and two together, which I didn't, I never wanted to see another bowl of chili. I didn't want to smell chili. Anything to do with chili gave me a lurching physical response. Chili equaled upchucking. It had nothing to do with rational thought, my reptilian brain KNEW not to do it again. I didn't intellectualize and decide not to eat a bowl of chili at the same time I was having a stomach virus. My body learned from experience.
You're not going to say that Pale Male doesn't learn from experience are you?
I thought not.

At any rate, when I start to feel too fearful about the Park's resident Red-tails getting poisoned, I think that maybe, just maybe, Pale Male's example of not eating "funny acting" rodents may have passed on to the others just as his pigeon hunting techniques have.

Of course, I still fear greatly for the fledglings as they innately go for the easy catch and most likely have yet to watch an adult not eat something funny acting.
That's where your luck comes in. Luck, or in my more fanciful moments, where a watchful experienced Red-tail, who will menace you away from the "bad" ones, comes in.

Donegal Browne

P.S. That doesn't mean that a courteous letter to the Central Park Conservancy expressing your sincere concern about rat bait in the Park's Red-tail territories particularly during breeding and fledging season isn't in order. Friendly reminders are always in order when people may have had something slip their minds.

And don't forget a note to The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine about their rat bait as well. They honestly have probably never even thought about it at all. Why would they? They aren't all Hawk Watchers...yet.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so dearly for these comments, and I have written to the Conservancy and will write again since I now know more.

Donegal Browne said...

Thank you. I'm glad they were helpful. And perhaps a cc to Ms. Alvarez might be nice as well.