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Rat Poison Blamed in Series of Red-tailed Hawk Deaths

Lima's fans have already set up a memorial to her by the tree in Central Park where she was found dead on Feb. 26, 2012.
Lima's fans have already set up a memorial to her by the tree in Central Park where she was found dead on Feb. 26, 2012.
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Jean Shum

MANHATTAN — Rat poison is to blame in the recent deaths of three Manhattan red-tailed hawks, including  Riverside Park's beloved mama hawk and the famed Pale Male's mate, according to the State Department of Conservation.

Necropsies released this week by DEC revealed that the raptors succumbed to hemmorhages brought on by ingesting rat poison. A fourth hawk found dead recently had rat poison in her system, but she died from complications related to egg-laying, the DEC said.

The findings highlight the challenges that urban raptors face, and the difficulty of controlling the city's rodent population while helping wildlife flourish. The birds of prey attract many fans, who like to watch the majestic creatures hunt and raise their families in nests dotting the cityscape.

Hawk lovers have criticized the Parks Department in the past for putting out rat poison near hawk nests, while park users have complained that Parks doesn't do enough to control rats because it wants to protect hawks from the deadly poison.

The Parks Department doesn't currently use rat poison in Central Park or Riverside Park, where three of the four dead raptors were found, a spokesman said.

Wildlife lovers watched in dismay as one hawk after another turned up dead over several weeks in February and March.

The rash of deaths started in February, when Urban Park Rangers captured a young female red-tailed hawk in Central Park near West 101st Street who they wanted to examine because she had been seend acting oddly for about a week. The bird, who was severely anemic, was given fluids and an injection of Vitamin K, but it died the next day, on February 10.

The next hawk death, on Feb. 26, made headlines, because the victim was Lima, the mate of the famed Pale Male, who died after a marathon mating spree on Cedar Hill in Central Park. A week later on March 4, Central Park Conservancy employees found another dead female hawk on West 59th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Five days later, the female hawk who had nested for several years in Riverside Park just north of the Boat Basin Cafe was discovered dead beneath the nest where she had raised several sets of young. Mourners decorated the area with flowers and photos the hawk.

The three hawks found in Central Park and Riverside Park had rat poison in their systems. The toxin is an anti-coagulant that causes hemorrhages. The hawk discovered at West 59th Street and Seventh Avenue died from complications caused by egg-laying.

The necropsies offered a glimpse of hawk's hunting habits.

The Riverside Park hawk had the bones and fur of either a young rat or a mouse in her stomach. Lima's stomach was empty, except for a trace of mammal hair. The hawk discovered near West 101st Street had pigeon remains in its stomach, and the hawk found at West 59th Street and Seventh Avenue had pigeon feathers in its stomach.