Wild Birds Poisoned by Illegal Toxin on Upper West Side, Vets Say

UPPER WEST SIDE — Vets at an Upper West Side animal hospital say an illegal poison has killed several wild birds in the neighborhood, and dogs and cats could be at risk, too.

Veterinarians at Animal General Hospital on Columbus Avenue and West 87th Street have seen six birds die since April 12 from what appears to be the poison Avitrol, a highly lethal toxin that was outlawed in New York City in 2000.

Cracked corn kernels laced with the toxin are often used by pest control companies to get rid of unwanted birds such as pigeons or starlings. But the dangerous poison can also kill dogs, cats and, in a large enough dose, humans, said Karen Heidgerd, practice administrator at Animal General Hospital.

Five of the dead birds were pigeons and one was a blue jay. Though some consider pigeons to be pests, Heidgerd said death by Avitrol is one of the least humane ways to control the pigeon population.

Residents in Inwood also reported dead birds sightings in Inwood Hill Park and neighborhood courtyards over the past week. 

Birds that eat the poison start feeling its effects within minutes. They become disoriented and sometimes fly into buildings or traffic. Next, the winged creatures have convulsions until they die. It takes about an hour for the animal to succumb to the toxin, Heidgerd said.

One of the birds that was brought into Animal General Hospital had struck a woman after falling from the sky.

"It's a horrible death," Heidgerd said. "It's disorienting. If they're lucky enough to smash into a building or a window or get run over by a car, great. But if they have to be in seizures for an hour, frying their brain, it's not any way to go."

The bodies of two of the dead birds are being sent to a wildlife pathology lab for testing. The poisoned birds were found around West 87th Street between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue.

It's not known whether the deaths were a malicious act. "It could be someone that just doesn't know (that Avitrol is illegal), and just wants birds off their brownstone, or it's someone who's out to kill the birds," Heidgerd said.

While some may not mourn for lost pigeons, Heidgerd said the presence of the toxin in the neighborhood poses a threat to all urban wildlife, including the red-tailed hawks beloved by many New Yorkers. Hawks often feed on pigeons, and a pigeon that's flying off-kilter because it's just ingested Avitrol is tempting prey, Heiderd said.

Employees at Animal General Hospital have posted signs in the area warning the public of the threat and asking anyone who spots a distressed bird to bring it to the hospital. Vets also want people to keep an eye out for cracked corn kernels that could be laced with Avitrol. Pet owners should keep dogs and cats away from the corn kernals, warned Heidgerd.

News of the dead birds comes just weeks after authorities with the State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that rat poison had killed several red-tailed hawks, including the single mother hawk in Riverside Park and Lima, the mate of the famed Pale Male.

Authorities don't believe foul play was a factor in the raptor deaths, said DEC spokesman Rodney Rivera. "They were victims of circumstance," Rivera said. "The rats in the area are the ones that are the targets for eradication, and unfortunately for the hawks, that's what they feed on."