Rat poison is suspected in deaths of Washington raptors

SEATTLE — The poison many of us use to kill mice and rats may also be killing their predators.

We first met Ed Deal -- the raptor bander -- when he was banding a rehabilitated red tail hawk before its release at a Beacon Hill park.

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That was about his 15,000th or so raptor in 25 or so years. That's how long Deal has been tracking Seattle's birds of prey; they are his passion.

"They're beautiful birds and we should be able to co-exist with them," he explained.

But Deal says right now we are not, and watching them slowly die from something preventable is heartbreaking.

"We have a study where we put color ID bands on Cooper's hawks and we've got 228 Cooper's hawks banded and 36 now have turned up dead," Deal told us.

He suspects a great deal of them were killed by rat poison and studies from other states certainly back up that theory.

A study in Massachusetts published last year tested the livers of 94 dead hawks and owls; 95 percent had been exposed to rat poison and 16 died solely because of that exposure.

Similar research has been done in New York, New Jersey and California with similar results.

Deal is applying for grants to do a study in Washington, but he isn't sitting idly by while he waits for the funds. He is partnering with PAWS in Lynnwood to collect liver tissue samples from dead raptors.

PAWS veterinarian Nicky Rosenhagen said they already have 40 in the freezer ready to go. In the meantime, they use Vitamin K that present with symptoms of poisoning but the diagnosis isn't certain.

Deal says in three years -- or once they've collected samples from 120 hawks and owls and 50 crows -- we'll know for sure, and we can start working with these birds-- instead of against them.

"They're natural pest control and as long as we give them a helping hand they'll cut down our rat problem for us," he concluded.

Other states are already taking action. Right now an organization in California called "Raptors Are The Solution" is lobbying for a complete ban on rat poison.