By Meta Larsson, Candler Park Resident
Everybody loves birds of prey. Is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy seeing a hawk soar in the sky or hearing owls hooting in the night? In intown Atlanta, partly because of the many big old trees, we have resident hawks and owls— including Piedmont Park’s recently acclaimed screech owl and Candler Park’s barred owls. On the street where I live— Druid Place, which runs along Freedom Park in the Candler Park neighborhood—a pair of barred owls, a few years ago, nested in an old magnolia.
That spring, we delighted in spotting two adorable little owlets huddled together on a branch. The “branchlings” weren’t quite ready to fly, but they needed to get out of their lice-infested nest. For those of us watching them, the little puffballs were a joy as they hopped along branches for the few days before they became airborne and left. This spring two baby barred owls were born in a nest in Jyll Thomas’ backyard on Sterling Street in Candler Park.
“Owls are such exquisite animals, aren’t they? We were very fortunate to experience the family,” said Thomas. Indeed, we are fortunate that such magnificent birds share our neighborhood.
On Druid Place last year, we had a nesting pair of hawks living amongst us. Their yearlings remain in the neighborhood; and on many mornings they enjoy their breakfast in a stately white oak whose branches overhang our street. Hawks and owls are definitely carnivores; and some people may find it unpleasant watching them in the messy act of devouring their prey. However, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that they help to keep our rodent populations in check.
In fact, owl parents, to feed their families, may catch as many as 3,000 rodents in one season (hungryowl.org)—and a season is only about 4 months. However, when people use rat poison, the birds who eat poisoned rodents are killed by the poison too. In Georgia, wildlife is generally not tested for cause of death, but the wildlife hospital, WildCare, in San Rafael, California, which has tested dead wildlife since 2006, report that an astonishingly high number–over 80% of wild animals–owls, hawks, foxes, and other predators — test positive for deadly anti-coagulant rat poison (wildcarebayarea.org).
A few months ago, a neighbor on Druid Place found a dead red-tailed hawk in his back yard. It was not tested, so no cause of death was determined, but chances are that the bird died from eating poisoned rats. The deaths of birds and mammals that consume poisoned rats are like that of the rats they consumed: it is slow and painful as the victims bleed to death internally by powerful anti-coagulants.
The organization Raptors Are the Solution or RATS states on its website: “It has been demonstrated that rat poison, including first and second generation rodenticides, commonly sold both over the counter and used by the pest control industry (Diphacinone, Brodifacoum, Bromadiolone, Chlorophacinone, Bromethalin and others) slowly, and cruelly poison hawks, owls, eagles, bobcats, foxes, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, songbirds, raccoons, fishers, and kit foxes, in addition to our children and our beloved pets” (raptorsarethesolution.org).
So what do we do? The Hungry Owl Project, at hungryowl.org, suggests that the best solution, involves exclusion, prevention and trapping with snap-traps, and that a collective effort is the most effective. Exclusion refers to sealing up any holes through which mice and rats can enter a house. Prevention entails removing whatever it is that attract rodents–such as fallen bird seed, pet food or trash. Removing English ivy and other thick vegetation is another form of prevention since rodents love to nest under cover.
And for trapping, although not that appealing to deal with, using traditional snap traps is the best option. Snap traps work efficiently and there are no side effects beyond the victim itself. But snap traps need to be put in places where only rats can get to them in order to protect other animals.
But, more importantly, we can let our resident hawks and owls do the job. Inviting owls by putting up owl boxes is another solution suggested by the Hungry Owl Project. However, we can’t all have our own private backyard owls, but we can stop poisoning the birds that work for all us of and provide so much joy.
Meta Larsson, a native of Sweden, lives on Druid Place in
Candler Park and teaches English as a second language at Georgia