How native birds are becoming victims of poisoning across Victoria

A sick barn owl with secondary poisoning. Photo: Wildlife Victoria

A sick barn owl with secondary poisoning. Photo: Wildlife Victoria

The community is being asked to use alternative methods to poisons and baits to control rodents, as rescuers respond to an "alarming" amount of secondary poisoning cases in birds of prey.

Wildlife Victoria's volunteer rescuers responded to 20 cases of secondary poisoning in iconic owl species in the first three days of August.

The calls to help came from all over Victoria, including urban and metropolitan areas, with the species ranging from barn owls to barking owls, boobook owls and masked owls.

"That's absolutely significant and very, very alarming to see those numbers of animals suffering secondary poisoning in such a short period," Wildlife Victoria's chief executive, Lisa Palma, said.

She said secondary poisoning was a "serious issue" for native species - particularly for raptors including owl species, many of which are classified as 'threatened'.

Typically nocturnal hunters, they feed on rats and mice and become the victims of secondary poisoning if they ingest a poisoned rodent.

Sadly by the time the animal is called in to Wildlife Victoria's emergency response service, it is often too late and euthanasia is most commonly the outcome.

"It is without question that our wildlife are dying as a result of secondary poisoning," Ms Palma said.

This is because the public spot these animals when they look out of place and are on the ground, when they are already at the point of "serious trouble".

Aside from being out in daylight hours - low in a tree or on the ground - further signs of poisoning in raptors include lethargy, disorientation and being non-responsive.

Just last weekend, Ballarat rescuers were called to a sick Sparrow Hawk in Redan.

Unfortunately the hawk, which was well-known for flying over the wetlands with another, was too sick from secondary poisoning to be saved.

But Ms Palma said the public could help.

There is a need for people to very seriously consider alternative methods of dealing with rats and mice, that don't involve poisoning

Lisa Palma

"There is a need for people to very seriously consider alternative methods of dealing with rats and mice, that don't involve poisoning," she explained.

To stop rodents from seeking shelter in the home during winter months, ensuring cracks and crannies are sealed is the best prevention.

It is also advised not to leave food waste or pet food out in the open, which could attract rodents.

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The call is backed up by the RSPCA, which recommends the use of quick and humane methods such as snap traps if a rodent infestation does occur.

It advises against using toxic baits to poison rodents as they contain chemicals called anticoagulants, which cause the rodent to die slowly and painfully from internal bleeding and because of the significant risk to other animals and wildlife.

"These poisons are not considered to be humane due to their toxic effects including difficulty breathing, weakness, vomiting, bleeding gums, seizures, abdominal swelling and pain," its website says.

An Australian study published in 2018 revealed more than 70 per cent of dead and dying boobook owls sampled had been exposed to rodent anticoagulants.

Further, the study found more than 50 per cent had dangerously high levels in their liver tissue.

Ms Palma said animals felt pain and just like humans, had families and raised young.

"We are incredibly lucky to have such amazing wildlife living amongst us and we should do all we can as humans to protect, support and look after them and avoid unnecessary deaths," she said.

Ms Palma, while the chief executive of the not-for-profit, is also an active wildlife rescuer and runs a shelter.

She encouraged community members who see injured wildlife to call Wildlife Victoria so a rescuer can be sent to assess the animal.

For wildlife emergencies, contact Wildlife Victoria on 03 8400 7300.

This story How native birds are becoming victims of poisoning first appeared on The Courier.