Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ April 2022

Nurturing Nature

Rats and Our Unintentional War on Wildlife

By Jennifer McGuire Cox

With spring comes the blooming of flowers, the budding of trees, and sightings of young birds and deer.  One thing we don’t look forward to seeing however are rats!

Rats may have once just been an issue in urban areas and cities, but have now grown quite common in suburban areas and neighborhood lots like ours.  Attracted by food and shelter, rats often move in during the spring months, raising their young and finding their fair share of meals before hopefully moving on the in the fall.

This Bald Eagle was admitted to Cape Wildlife Center [Massachusetts] after secondary poisoning; staff there were unable to save it.

No one wants rats in their yard.  Beyond the shock factor when you might be out and about in your yard, they can bring with them a number of issues.  One of the most common are food-borne illnesses such as salmonella.  Rat and rodent urine can also increase issues with asthma and allergies, especially in young children.

Many of our initial reactions are to kill, to poison.  We call our exterminators or go to the hardware store and lay down poison, or rodenticide, in those ubiquitous black boxes.  However, these poisons not only kill rats, but other local wildlife as well.

Rat Poison and Wildlife

A wide variety of wildlife are found in suburban areas and many of these animals are attracted to the enticing flavor of rat poison.  Squirrels, chipmunks, and other similarly sized wildlife can enter one of these black boxes and die miserable deaths after eating poison, many slowly bleeding to death.

Many predators can also become quite sick and possibly die of secondary poisoning.  This occurs when animals eat the poisoned rats and other small mammals, their main food source.  This most often impacts birds of prey — such as hawks and owls — as well as larger mammals, including foxes, coyotes, and bobcats.  Studies have found upwards of 97 percent of red-tailed hawks testing positive for rodenticides.*  Ironically enough, these are the animals that naturally control rat populations in the wild.  Without these predators, there will be even more rats.  Even domestic dogs and cats are not immune from illness and potential death due to rat poison in the environment.

Poison Alternatives

Instead of using poison, what we can we try instead?  Here are some suggestions:

[McGuire Cox, a certified Maryland Master Naturalist, lives on Belton Road.]   ■

*Nelson, Angela.  “Understanding the Risks of Rodent Poisons to Birds of Prey,” Tufts Now, Tufts University.  16 September 2020,

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