CENTRAL PARK — Two of three babies born to the beloved red-tailed hawk Pale Male and his mate Zena this April fell ill over the weekend, and bird experts say blood test results prove rat poison is to blame.
Cathy Horvath, who runs a Long Island-based volunteer animal rescue group with her husband Bobby Horvath, took blood samples to test for rat poisoning in one of Pale Male's babies after transferring him out of a tree near the American Museum of Natural History to their clinic on Sunday.
"I don't know what type of rat poisoning it was yet, I still have to do more tests, but it was rat poisoning," Cathy Horvath of Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation said Wednesday.
"I'm starting him on a course of vitamin K because he's extremely anemic. It could be a 10 day treatment or a month-long treatment, but I'll keep him here while he recovers," she added.
She wrote on her group's Facebook page Monday that the bird in her custody "looked a little better than yesterday, is perching well, and is bright eyed and alert this morning and is keeping food down."
Horvath said she wanted to treat the other sick hawk believed to be Pale Male's baby, which was perched on a tree branch near the Metropolitan Museum of Art Wednesday afternoon, attracting a crowd of concerned bird watchers.
Horvath said she asked park officials and bird watchers to help get the second hawk, adding that he was acting very lethargic, which is a sign of rat poisoning.
Kevin Sisco, a birding hobbyist who has kept a close eye on the area's red-tailed hawk family, said the fledgeling in the tree was "sitting longer than normal" and was worrying him. He and other birders believe the hawks eat rats poisoned by rodenticide and that slowly the poison builds up in the hawks' systems and makes them ill.
After Pale Male's previous mate Lima died this past March following a series of other red-tailed hawk deaths in the parks attributed to rodenticide, the Parks Department stopped using rat poison in Riverside Park and Central Park.
A Parks Department spokesman said, "we cannot confirm where a hawk may have ingested a poisoned rat," and added that the department did not use rat poison in Theodore Roosevelt Park, surrounding the Natural History Museum, this year because as there has not been a problem with rats at this location.
Volunteer hawk watchers said they were organizing themselves to keep watch and ensure the hawk is safe.
Concerned New Yorkers have started a petition to the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation to "Stop the murder of our Red Tail Hawks in NYC!" on the social action platform Change.org.
The petition states that death by rat poisoning is "is a slow, painful and torturous one. The type of poison that these institutes use for rodent control is deadly, not only to our majestic birds, but to all wildlife, our families and our own pets."