EK Bayer: The Poisoned Owls

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Rat poison kills rodents, but chances are that’s not all it kills. EK Bayer has this Perspective on its innocent victims.

Recently, a post about a grounded red-tailed hawk near Glen Park in San Francisco thanked the folks who’d stood guard while a Good Samaritan tracked the author down. It also said, “Kudos to the gentleman who had the foresight to bag the dead rat the hawk was holding.” I had to read it twice before I understood. The culprit was rat poison.

My kids went to preschool in Glen Park Canyon, a magical experience. There were great horned owls nesting in a big eucalyptus near the rec center. We’d crane our necks to stare at three tiny owlets staring back at us. I saw them fledge when some birdwatchers pointed out two owl teenagers in the ivy under O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, hooting back and forth with their Mama. Or Papa.

The next year, we could hear the owls, but their nest was out-of-sight. One sad morning, we found the mama, dead, not far from school. A necropsy revealed rat poison. We hoped against hope Papa was carrying on, a single dad, but more likely Mama fed her babies the poison rat before eating herself. What mama doesn’t subsist on her kids’ leftovers?

A few days later, two male great horned owls fought to the death on Mount Davidson. Seriously. Both were found. I just knew it was a fight fueled by grief. A wiser friend said Dad was trying to get a new mate. …Maybe.


It took a few years, but finally, a new nest of baby owls appeared in the canyon with a new class of preschoolers to watch them. The other day, I passed the big eucalyptus, and a couple was staring up at that old, familiar notch.

A local hardware store is currently featuring glue traps in a huge, bright blue display. Inhumane as those are, at least they’re contained. I hoped the whole display was for rat control that doesn’t kill anything else, but to my horror, half the display was poison.

Maybe a lot of people are dealing with rats right now. But someone used poison, and a whole family of owls died. The thing is, owls, hawks, falcons, coyotes, even your cat, will make easy prey of a poisoned, dying rat.

Surely we can do better.

With a Perspective, I’m EK Bayer.

EK Bayer lives and writes in San Francisco.