SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) — People across San Diego County have noticed a disturbing trend as they have found, seemingly healthy, birds of prey dead.
Many believe the deaths are tied to the use of a poison used to control rodents.
News 8's Shawn Styles looks at the problem in this News 8 Your Stories Investigation.
A deceased barn owl was found at a ranch in Ramona in an area surrounded by agriculture where brodifacoum is used to control the rodent population
"I was freaked out," said David Begent who has hosted several hawk watches and found the barn owl. "A perfect specimen of a barn owl, with no injuries what so ever.
So, David contacted the Wildlife Research Institute who sent the bird's body to UC Davis for analysis and it did have brodifacoum in its system.
Brodifacoum is not available to the general public, but can be used in rodent control and is a pellet that is eaten.
"It causes the animal to bleed out," said Leigh Bittner from Wildlife Research Institute.
The owl's death is the secondary effect, because the poison breaks down slowly.
"Brodifacoum has a long half-life, up to 30 days," said Leigh.
So, a dying or dead animal can kill.
An owl – or other bird of pretty - sees it, catches it and eats it – or feeds it to their young - and the birds can die from it.
Rodenticides, like brodifacoum, are used because they work well.
"In the first year you have a tremendous kill, but the second year you've lost your raptors, owls and hawks," said Leigh.
That's what happened at the Pine Valley County Park. Two years ago, an owl box was put up at Pine Valley Academy and a pair of owls nested and returned last spring.
"Last year, I was at the park with the kids having lunch and watching these guys in white suits poisoning the gophers," said Rebecca Sharp of the academy.
And by May the owls were gone.
"The gopher population has exploded," said Rebecca.
News 8 contacted the County Department of Parks and Recreation and they sent a statement that says in part:
The use of rodenticides by DPR is conducted following all county, state and federal policies, rules, regulations, labels and administrative procedures.
Applicators seek to minimize potential exposure to other species.
Leigh Bittner says there are better ways, for example in Ventura they're providing raptor perches.
"It gives them a way to hunt," said Leigh. "It lets them have a hunting perch. And over time, the studies show a 30 percent reduction in costs [versus] using the rodenticides."
To do that, change has to come - and educating the public
"I sincerely believe most people don't realize they're killing the wildlife they love," said Leigh.