Ten Scottish Red kite chicks fall victim to 2nd generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides!

[singlepic id=172 w=320 h=240 float=left]Before reading this article Raptor Politics consider it appropriate to issue the following important statement: The inappropriate use of rodenticides (containing anticoagulants) are the greatest potential threat to raptor species in the UK at the present time. A Species at particular risk, as highlighted below by recent events in Scotland, is the Red Kite because of the kite’s dependency to feed on carrion. Other raptors at risk are Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and of course Hen Harrier. It is more appropriate we feel to make a separate reference to two of Britain’s most important vermin control species, the Barn Owl and Polecat, which would undoubtedly be placed  at a higher risk by the indiscriminate and irresponsible use of rodenticides within the farming community.

In the wrong hands these highly toxic and dangerous substances, which can be purchased over the counter and retained in large quantities without a licence by the public, could theoretically be used to wipe out total raptor populations in our country. This year so far 10 Red Kite chicks have been recovered dead from a minimum of 4 nests on Scotland’s Black Isle, all displaying typical symptoms of rodenticides poisoning. These figures are of particular concern to Scottish conservationists like Brian Etheridge as they represent 10% of the 39 successful nests found this year and the 88 young that reached tagging age of 5 weeks on the Black Isle this year. Of course the losses could be higher if any adult kites from the four nests have also been poisoned. 

Brian Etheridge, who has been involved in monitoring the reintroduced population of red kites on the Black Isle believes that adult birds have been feeding their growing chicks with carcasses of pest animals that have been poisoned on local farmland, with catastrophic consequences.

Brian is the RSPB Red Kite Officer for North Scotland, and has been monitoring the situation over the past 15 years. This summer, he visited four separate nests on the Black Isle and discovered ten dead chicks in total following ingestion of rodent carcasses contaminated with rat poison. “These young birds were displaying classic symptoms of rodenticide poisoning, a particularly painful way for any animal to die,” commented Brian.

“Many rodenticides contain anticoagulants, which gather in the liver of an animal causing heavy internal bleeding. Young red kite chicks undergo a particularly fast growing phase and require a rapid circulatory system in order to grow healthily. Anything that interferes with the blood supply of a young kite is of serious concern and sadly, in every instance, these rodenticides have proven fatal to them. These eight chicks were all quite big, and very close to leaving the nest, but the real number of chicks affected may be more than this.

Chicks which die from rodenticides when very small may be removed from the nest by the adults and the cause of nest failure will never be known. This incident is devastating for the Black Isle red kite population as these eight chicks represent nearly ten per cent of the total red kite chicks produced there this year. ”

There is a legitimate need for rat populations to be controlled in many areas particularly around farm buildings and other rural sites. The most commonly used method is the laying of baits containing poisons, known as rodenticides. Kites are predominantly scavengers, meaning they like to scour the countryside for dead animals to feed upon and as such are admired by ecologists for their role in cleaning up the environment. This lifestyle can unfortunately make them vulnerable to the use of poisons in our countryside as their keen eye-sights very quickly pick out dead carcasses from great heights. Sadly, this includes animals which have been poisoned, requiring vigilance on behalf of people who use rodenticides on their property.

“People can prevent the unnecessary deaths of an already rare and vulnerable species as well as injury and death of other wildlife including their own pets by seeking appropriate ways to control rodent infestation,” Brian continued. “To that end, the RSPB has produced an information leaflet on how to effectively control rodent infestation in a responsible way. This leaflet contains impartial advice and best practice guidelines, such as searching for and correct disposal of dead and dying rats. It also recommends that farmers who regularly see kites foraging around their fields and farm buildings should be particularly cautious when using rodenticides, particularly in the summer months. I would really encourage everyone to have a read of it to get all the appropriate information on the subject prior to choosing rodenticides as a control option.”[singlepic id=173 w=320 h=240 float=right]

 ”There is no doubt in my mind that these latest poisoning cases are just tragic accidents but by making informed choices about pest control, we will be able to reduce rat numbers effectively as well as preventing unnecessary damage to our local wildlife”.

The free leaflet entitled ‘Rat poison and the threat to wildlife’ may be obtained by contacting the RSPB on 01463 715000. Details can also be found on the following web site: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/ratpoison_tcm6-16130.pdf

The following statistics relating to the decline of the Kestral may be relivant; between 1995-2008 Kestral numbers in the UK fell by 20%. Between 2008-2009 numbers continued to decline by a further 36%.

3 comments to Ten Scottish Red kite chicks fall victim to 2nd generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides!

  • John Miles

    I think it is worth going back in history on this article. Farms in the past were never over run by rats or mice due there being ‘farm cats’. My sister’s farms were never infested with rats or mice due to the large numbers of cats on the farm to help control rodents, including rats. In those days all farms had Barn Owls to help resolve this problem.

    Once poison is used even the cats are slowly killed with vets now claiming that farm cats are more likely to get ‘cancer’ than any other domestic cats because of prior contact with poisons used to control rodents.

    We are also seeing the end of species like Barn Owl and Polecat, the main predators of rats and mice around farms. Polecat even migrate from the countryside in winter moving into farms just to feed on rats and mice.

    When the poison is taken outside the farm environment we are faced with the removal of many Birds of Prey. One of the latest examples includes the buffer feeding of Hen Harriers being fed with white rats at sites like Langholm and the Forest of Bowland. Land Owners are supposed to learn from the Langholm project how to manage a Red Grouse Moor with out the need of destroying Birds of Prey. Raptor feeding tables may well become a common site on moorland but what is to stop individuals placing nice rats or the odd rabbit full of poison on these bird tables!! In court any individual prosecuted would only have to say “I picked up this rat/rabbit from the road”. No court in hell could prosecute any one as this particular poison is freely available across the counter and who knows who may be using it even as we speak.

    A more worrying fact has to be “what if this poison enters the human food chain!!” Was it tested on humans as well as rats? What if a contaminated rat/rats falls into a silage clamp and begins to rot, leaving the deadly poison in the silage. A cow eats the silage and you drink the milk. Sweet Dreams Everybody!

    • Skydancer

      Comment by John Miles may have a bearing on recent events in the USA, where a manufacturer of tainted pet food containing traces of rat poison (aminopterin) is being blamed for the injuries and deaths of cats and dogs across the country. Although the poison is not legal for use in the USA, it is used overseas. Traces of aminopterin was found at levels of at least 40 parts per million in the tested cat food samples.

      Reports of sickened animals throughout the USA led to the recall of 60 million cans and pouches of pet food produced by Menu Foods which the company sells throughout North America under 95 brand names.

      Aminopterin, also used as a cancer drug, is highly toxic in high doses. It inhibits the growth of malignant cells and suppresses the immune system. In dogs and cats, it can cause kidney failure. I presume it would also have similar affects on human organs if eaten, although humans touching the food are not at any risk.

      A database being compiled by the website Pet Connection reports pet owners in the US had reported 1,201deceased pets, 741 cats and 460 dogs.

      The US Food and Drug Administration said that Menu Foods had identified wheat gluten imported from China as a possible culprit since Menu had changed a supplier of that product and that reports of pet sickness coincided with that change.

      If such a problem can occur in the USA, it can also happen here; John Miles may be on the mark and I think we have every right to be concerned.

  • Ian West Ex RSPB Investigations

    There were 2 reintroductions of red kites in 1989 where young red kites were released over the same period. One in the Chiltern Hills has thrived, the other in the Black Isles has struggled. In 2006 there were over 320 breeding pairs in the Chilterns, in the Black Isle there were just 41 breeding pairs and in 2009 they had reached 49 breeding pairs. The difference has been shown to be illegal killing (RSPB media release of 20/04/10). Its an ongoing tragedy for the red kites in the Black Isles. Hopefully the authorities will track down this latest source of poisoning and bring those responsible to book.