Posted tagged ‘how trash effects rat population’

Top Posts of 2012, Part One

December 28, 2012
The dog and I thank you.

The dog and I thank you.

As the end of the year approaches, the dog and I would like to thank our loyal readers for their regular visits to Out Walking the Dog. And as our community continues to grow, we’re  delighted to welcome readers – and commenters – from all over North America as well as Great Britain, Italy, Finland, Spain, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and beyond.

Here is the first installment of Out Walking the Dog‘s Ten Most Popular Stories of 2012.  These stories, all written and published in the past year, cover topics that include waiting dogs and feral cats, the effect of human-generated trash on wildlife, the arrival of coyotes on Staten Island, squirrels, and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. (Oddly, the most popular story of all remains a post I wrote in 2010: Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got its Spikes. It has received far and away the most hits each and every year for three years now. Go figure.)

Most Popular Stories, Ten through Six

White kitten, Randall's Island, NYC.

White kitten, Randall’s Island.

10. Lives of City Cats: The Working and the Feral explores the lifestyles of NYC felines from cats that work to keep delis and bodegas mouse-free to feral cats that roam urban parks and streets. Free-roaming cats, both domestic and feral, cause a surprising amount of ecological damage as they kill birds that evolved without defenses against these efficient non-native carnivores. Are Trap-Neuter-Release programs a humane response to feral cat colonies or part of a larger ecological problem?

NYC Red-tail Eats Rat.

NYC Red-tail Eats Rat.

9. The Trash of Two Cities: How Our Trash Kills Our Hawks is a favorite post of mine. In it, I trace the 2012 deaths of NYC raptors to NYC’s overabundance of trash. Secondary poisoning kills raptors that consume rats laden with rodenticides (see post #6, below). All animals, including rats, seek food, water, and a safe place to rear their young. NYC provides all three in abundance, with trash providing most of the food that sustains our sizable rat population. The key to effective pest control is keeping our trash off-limits to animals. A visit to Philadelphia leads me to compare that city’s solar-powered compacting trash cans with the open cans and dumpsters of New York.

8.  The Waiting Dogs of NYC is a photo essay of New York’s ubiquitous waiting dogs. Dogs wait for their owners outside restaurants, shops, post offices. Some wait in pairs, some wait alone. Some wait happily, some wait anxiously. My dog, too, waits. But the bond between an urban dog and its owner is strong.

Esau waits.

Esau waits.

NYC coyote: Mark Weckel.

NYC coyote: Mark Weckel

7. Another NYC Borough Falls to the Coyote muses over the first documented sighting of a coyote in Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill. How did the coyote get to Staten Island? What research is being done in NYC to find out more about where our urban coyotes are living? “As I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, coyotes are coming, people. In fact, they’re here.”

6. Good-bye, Riverside Park Red-tail documents the community reaction to the demise of a red-tailed hawk known as Mom who nested each year in Riverside Park.  Over the years, Mom survived a string of bad luck, including the death of a mate from secondary poisoning (see post #9 above) and the destruction of her nest with three nestlings in a storm.  But last year was a tough one for NYC’s hawks with at least four dying from rat poison. We visited the charming memorial put up in the park at Mom’s nesting site.

Riverside Park Memorial

Riverside Park Memorial

Check back before the new year for the top five stories of 2012.

The Trash of Two Cities: How our trash kills our hawks

March 17, 2012

I recently spent 24 hours in Philadelphia, and I want to talk trash. Trash as in garbage, refuse, litter, rubbish. Why do I want to talk trash? Because of NYC’s wild winged predators, of course, specifically our large population of red-tailed hawks.

Let me connect the dots that lead from refuse

to red-tails.

Simply put: Humans make garbage. Garbage feeds rats. Well-fed rats thrive, breed and raise healthy young. The growing rat population causes problems for humans. Humans use poison to eliminate rats. Red-tailed hawks eat poisoned rats and die.

Rats, like all animals, need three essentials in order to thrive: food, water and shelter. NYC provides all three in abundance. Most city rats take shelter in a vast underground empire that exists below the city streets, amid tunnels and pipelines and storm drains. They come up into the streets to feed. What do they feed on?  Mostly garbage, which New York City provides to its rodents free of charge, 24 hours a day.

Open trash cans,

Open trash cans offer easy access to rats, as do bread crumbs spread for pigeons

food dropped on the street,

Starlings fight over pizza

mountains of bagged trash awaiting pick-up by the sanitation department,

It takes no time at all for a rat to gnaw through a plastic bag to feed on the rotting scraps inside.

and unsecured garbage can lids

Rats slip easily inside an open lid.

these are the gateways to health, happiness and profuse breeding in our urban rodent population.

The recent deaths of several red-tailed hawks in Manhattan has led to speculation that the birds suffered secondary poisoning after eating street rats laden with rodenticide.  The bodies are being tested to find out why these apparently uninjured hawks died.  In previous years, rodenticides have been identified as the cause of death for several NYC hawks, both adult and juvenile. Clearly, poisoning prey animals causes problems for NYC’s wild predators.

Riverside Park red-tail eats a rat.

I’m certainly not advocating that we protect the hawks at the expense of our quality of life. Rats have over-run my neighborhood in Morningside Heights, and I want them gone. But poisons, while sometimes necessary to control a specific infestation, will not solve the underlying problem.

I know this from experience. Here on my block is a rat burrow in the dirt around a street tree. You can see that the burrow has been covered with mesh, and that the mesh has been gnawed right through.

Rat burrow.

This has happened more times than I can count. Poison is regularly dumped down into the hole, to no avail.

Layers of signs warning of rat poison.

On Thursday, this was the scene at the rat burrow.

Are these poison packets? Right out in the open, where children or dogs could pick them up? Panning out a little, you can seen how the poison is counteracted by … trash.

As long as we feed our rats (and give them take-out coffee), we will continue to have a problem.

Okay, enough ranting. Let’s go to Philly.

Solar-powered trash compactor and recycling bin.

The area of Philly I stayed in was full of heavy-duty, double-bodied refuse containers. Small openings in the left side are for cans, bottles and paper. But the right side, the trash side, is completely enclosed.  Rats can’t get in. Philly started using these trash cans a couple of years ago. They’re computerized, high-tech, solar-powered, laser-operated machines that, by compacting the trash, can hold many times as much garbage as a regular can. When they’re full, they send signals to the sanitation department to alert them.

The cans need to be emptied much less often, allowing the city to expand its recycling program. Philly insists it has cut no workers from the payrolls, but is using them to work in other areas. It also claims the pricey new cans have easily recouped their cost and are now saving the city money.

The city has also commissioned students and artists to decorate the cans as toothed and hungry creatures.

Toothy trash can.

Here’s a garbage-eating shark.

Feed me.

Apparently New York is trying a few of these out in Chinatown, Park Slope and other neighborhoods around the city. There are a few minor obstacles.  You have to be willing to touch a potentially germ-covered handle to deposit your trash. And while virtually all the cans I saw in Philly looked clean and slick, the one at the bus stop in front of the train station, where passengers line up for the Bolt bus and Mega bus, had a wobbly handle.

Still, these seem like our best hope, along with a major education campaign, for controlling our rats.

And now, to reward you for having stayed with me through my trash talk, here’s a glimpse of non-trashy Philly.

Flowering trees

pretty bike racks

dogs in windows

murals and garden plots

tiled murals

and – the reason I went to Philly in the first place – a terrific production of Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, directed by my husband, at the wonderful Wilma Theater.

If you live in or near Philly, do go see it. It runs through April 8th.


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