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Rat poison caused death of SWFL eaglet

By Staff | Feb 20, 2020

A Sanibel wildlife clinic has determined that the death of a North Fort Myers eaglet was caused by ingesting rat poison, likely from eating another animal that had been poisoned.

E14, the eaglet born to Southwest Florida Eagle Cam stars Harriet and M15,, died Jan. 15 from a broken blood feather on the left wing less than a month after it hatched.

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife issued a statement Wednesday, saying that the liver tissue of the male eaglet was found to contain markedly increased levels of brodifacoum, a type of anticoagulant rodenticide or rat poison.

“It’s unfortunate. With what they bring into the nest, it’s unknown what they might ingest,” said Andrew Pritchett, of the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam. “It goes up the food chain.”

Anticoagulant rodenticides prevent the blood from clotting normally and cause an animal that has ingested a toxic amount to bleed to death.

Rodents that ingest the poison often become disoriented or lethargic as they are dying and become easy prey for predators, passing the poison through the food chain.

It is not uncommon for apparently healthy raptors to test positive for low levels of rodenticides, which have not reached the point of causing toxicity and illness.

The adults in the nest likely have chronic exposure to rodenticides from the same food sources, but are not suffering any ill effects due to their larger body size compared to the affected baby, the statement said.

Alison Charney Hussey, executive director of CROW, said they suspected rat poisoning when they saw so much blood on the Eagle Cam.

“We suspected it because rodenticide prevents clotting. With the broken blood feathers that we suspected happened, the eaglet just bled out,” Hussey said. “It’s speculation to say if it would have lived if it hadn’t ingested the poison.”

Pritchett said that the rat poison is what indirectly killed it. Death was caused by a broken blood feather, which delivers blood to the growing feathers. The wound failed to clot from the rodenticide, leading to its death.

“The wound was caused by training, with the eaglet trying to strengthen its wings. When it started bleeding, that’s when the rodenticide became more apparent because the blood couldn’t clot,” said Pritchett , who added that another eaglet a few years ago died in the nest was also found to have rat poison in its system.

Pritchett and Hussey said this is a good teaching moment for people, regarding the importance of knowing what you put down around your home.

“Be careful with the chemicals you might use to take care of your home,” Pritchett said. “It can indirectly affect other species.”

“So many of us don’t want rodents around the home, so we use things available to us. We want people to think about the unintended consequences to wildlife,” Hussey said. “It time to ask if there are other ways to keep rodents away from your ecosystem.”