Raptors, foxes, coyotes, and other predators keep Massachusetts’ ecosystems in balance. But in recent years, shocking numbers of these iconic creatures have been sickened or killed after preying on rodents poisoned with second-generation anti-coagulant rodenticides (SGARs). Mass Audubon is launching a campaign to reduce the use of rodent poisons across Massachusetts. To succeed, we’ll need the help of landowners, pest control professionals, and volunteer wildlife advocates in every community in our state.
What are SGARS?
Second Generation Anti-Coagulant Rodenticides (SGARs) are a class of poisons that prevent blood from clotting, causing internal bleeding, organ failure, paralysis, and often death. While the federal government banned the retail sale of SGARs in 2015 due to the dangers posed to children, pets, and wildlife, they remain legal—and widely used—by licensed pest control professionals in Massachusetts.
How SGARs Poison our Wildlife and Communities
Although pest control professionals use SGARS to target mice and rats, these deadly poisons move throughout the food chain, with destructive consequences to the entire ecosystem.
SGARs work slowly, so after ingesting bait, a rodent may live for several days, during which time it becomes more vulnerable to predators and scavengers. When a predator eats a poisoned rodent, SGARs pass into its own bloodstream in a process known as “secondary poisoning.” Just like a rodent that has ingested SGARs, a predator that consumes enough poisoned rodents will develop serious internal bleeding, leading to serious illness or death.
In recent years, researchers have documented an alarming number of predators sickened and killed by SGARS. Veterinarians at the New England Wildlife Centers report treating hundreds of poisoned raptors, foxes, and coyotes each year. A recent study found that 100% of Red-tailed Hawks tested at a wildlife clinic in Massachusetts had SGARs in their bloodstreams. And a national study of 303 dead Bald Eagles found that 82% of the sampled birds had been exposed to rodenticides. Many of these birds died from other causes like collisions with vehicles, but exposure to rodenticides reduces an animal’s health and alertness, making it less able to hunt and more susceptible to hazards.
The story of MK, a beloved bald eagle living in Arlington who succumbed to SGAR poisoning in 2023, has been told and re-told as a cautionary tale. When MK and her partner nested in Arlington in 2021, they were the first Bald Eagles to nest in the town in over 50 years. But just two years later, after eating multiple rodents poisoned with SGARs, MK passed away. Since 2021, at least three other bald eagles in Massachusetts have died from SGAR poisoning.
There’s no way to precisely track how many predators have been killed by SGARs in the wild. But the anecdotal evidence we have suggests that we are systematically weakening species at multiple levels of the food chain.
How to Help Reduce the Use of SGARs in Your Community
Mass Audubon is launching and supporting local campaigns in cities and towns across Massachusetts to reduce the use of SGARs. Here’s how you can get involved to help protect predators in your community:
Become a Climate Champion
Join Mass Audubon’s team of volunteer environmental advocates. We’ll give you all the guidance & resources you need to launch or join an existing campaign to reduce the use of SGARs in your community.
Organize Your Neighbors
Educate members of your community about the harms of SGARs and alternative pest control methods. Then find like-minded neighbors to join you in reaching out to others. We’ll equip you with guidance, brochures, lawn signs, and our online organizing toolkit to help you effectively reach out to members of your community.
Contact Your Board of Health and Public Works Department
Learn what methods your local government uses to control pests in town halls, schools, cemeteries, recreation centers, senior centers, and more. Share information about the harms of SGARs & alternative pest control methods. Then, if needed, launch a petition to demand that your local public buildings stop using SGARs.
Connect With Your Local Elected Officials
Reach out to your town select board members or city councilors to discuss introducing a bylaw amendment that would reduce the use of SGARs on public and private property. We’ll give you all the guidance and training you need to engage with elected officials as part of our Climate Champions program.
Control Rodents with Non-Poison Methods
If you must control rodents in your space, be sure to use non-toxic methods like rodent-proof trash containers, sealing up cracks in foundations, and snap traps.
Local Rescue Raptors Campaigns
Mass Audubon Climate Champions and other wildlife advocates across Massachusetts have already launched campaigns to reduce the use of SGARs in their towns and cities. If your community is on the list below, click the link to learn more. If not, join Climate Champions and we’ll give you all the information you need to launch your own local campaign.
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