Aussie woman's disturbing find in driveway as owl rescued with 'blood around the mouth'

Michelle wrapped the sick owl in a towel and rushed it to her local vet in Perth on Wednesday evening.

The owl dying from rat bait poisoning wrapped in a towel (left) and standing still in a Perth driveway (right).
Michelle wrapped the owl dying from rat bait poisoning in a towel and rushed it to her local vet in Perth on Wednesday night. Source: Supplied

A woman’s “horrific” find in a suburban driveway has drawn attention to a disturbing increase in the number of native owls suffering “painful” deaths — with vets and wildlife shelters in one Aussie city pleading with residents for help after being inundated by the problem.

Michelle Silvestro told Yahoo News she was walking her dogs on a street in Morley, Perth, around 5pm on Wednesday night when she saw what she believes to be an eastern barn owl standing in front of a home while being attacked by a group of birds.

“No owl would be there unless something was wrong,” she said. “I asked a lady who lived there for a towel and at that moment eight magpies were swooping in on it, so I snuck up and put the towel on it and walked home.”

Michelle said she then jumped in the car and rushed the owl to her local vet, which was only a minute or so away. “She [the vet] came back saying unfortunately it is dying,” the mum recalled. “She said it had a red belly and blood around the mouth which is likely rat poisoning and that there were a lot coming in lately [like that].”

The owl that died in the care of the Darling Range Wildlife Shelter WA.
Darling Range Wildlife Shelter WA urged people on Thursday morning to stop using rat baits after another male owl died in their care. Source: Darling Range Wildlife Shelter WA

Despite wildlife groups persistently urging companies like Bunnings to stop selling rain baits due to their destructive impact on native animals and pets — which Yahoo News Australia has reported on since 2019 — there appears to be an increase in poisonings across Perth over the past few months.

Darling Range Wildlife Shelter WA, south of the city, said on Facebook in April it had admitted eight Aussie boobook owls, most of which had signs of rodenticide poisoning. On Thursday morning, after treating yet another poisoned owl, the shelter urged locals to stop using second generation rat baits, which persist in animal tissue after being ingested.

“It may be peace of mind for you to just throw some cheap bulk poison into your roof, but these 2nd generation poisons bioaccumulate,” Darling Range Wildlife wrote online. “That means the predators who eat them (via poisoned rodents) accumulate the poisons in their body. And the predators die too, a slow... painful... horrific death.”

The organisation said volunteers “can’t handle any more rat bait owls dying in our care”.

Alarming new research published by Deakin University late last year revealed 92 per cent of nocturnal animals tested — including owls and Tawny Frogmouths — had rat bait poison in their system.

The concentration of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) “in the liver was such that toxic or lethal impacts were likely to have occurred in 33% of powerful owls we tested, 68% of tawny frogmouths, 42% of southern boobooks and 80% of barn owls,” researchers said.

The rodents die quickly due to the efficiency of the rodenticide so the poison stays in the dead rodents and there is potentially a greater risk of secondary poisoning of non-target species. For this reason it’s important to remove any dead rodents you find.

Rodenticide active ingredients in the fine print of rat baits sold at Bunnings.
Alarming new research has revealed 92 per cent of nocturnal animals tested — including owls and Tawny Frogmouths — had rat bait poison in their system. Source: Supplied

Poisons should always be a last resort for rodent control, BirdLife Australia says, and instead suggests using a non-toxic trap or lure or rodent proofing materials like wire mesh. If a resident decides to use baits, they should avoid SGARs by ensuring active poison ingredients are sodium chloride, warfarin, coumatetatryl, or diphacinone.

“Purchase baits that come in block form, and deliver them in tamper-proof bait stations. Tamper proof bait stations are available at all major suppliers,” the group says on its website. “Avoid bait pellets or paste as these can be easily eaten by other animals.”

Products that have a low predator poisoning risk, according to BirdLife Australia:

Non-Anticoagulant Rodenticides Active Ingredient: Sodium Chloride

  • Ratsak Naturals (a human and pet safe bait option)

First-Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides Active Ingredient: Warfarin, Coumatetralyl, Diphacinone

  • Bayer Racumin Rat and Mouse Blocks

  • JT Eaton Apple Bait Block Rodenticide

  • Parafarm Ratex Mouse and Rat Bait

  • PCT Holdings Surefire Couma All Weather Blocks Rodenticide

  • Ruth Consolidated Industries (RCI) Ratblitz bait

  • Yates RATSAK Double Strength Bait Station

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