Baby owl dies from suspected rat poisoning three weeks after father

Just three weeks after its father died, a young great horned owl living near Lincoln Park’s North Pond was discovered unresponsive Tuesday. Experts say both the baby and the elder owl are suspected to have died from rat poison.

Though the owl was sent to the Willowbrook Wildlife Center to determine a cause of death, Annette Prince, director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, said a lack of external injuries and the presence of blood around the bird’s mouth indicates that it died after consuming poison.

“He wasn’t found near a road, and there’s no sign of blunt force trauma,” Prince said. “It’s a devastating end for a little bird.”

The father was also suspected to have died from rat poison, though his cause of death has not yet been determined, the Willowbrook Wildlife Center said Thursday.

After the owlet was discovered, Prince said onlookers found his mother, the final remaining member of the family, suffering from a bleeding foot.

Prince said that more and more birds in the Chicago area are being killed by poisons typically used to kill rodents and other small mammals. At least once a month, she said, her group finds a hawk or an owl that has been tainted.

Owls typically feed on things such as rats and mice, Prince added. Humans need to find an alternative to poisons that disrupt the natural food chain, she said.

“People are organizing and galvanizing around the idea that this is an issue we need to resolve,” Prince said. “The (owl) family was a wonderful thing for people to get to see up close. Now there could be none of them left.”

Candace Ridlbauer runs Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab and Education. She said in the past couple years, her group has seen significantly more deaths from rodent poisoning than in years past.

She said deaths from poison are slow and extremely painful for birds. They start lethargic and slow, she said, before bleeding becomes hard to stop and can take over the whole body. Ridlbauer advised Chicago residents to avoid using toxic poisons, and instead to rely on the natural food chain.

“The hawk will eat the mouse, and then the hawk gets sick, and then the hawk dies,” Ridlbauer said. “So now you’ve just lost your natural predator to take care of animals. Poisons are not the answer. They’re definitely not the answer. And it’s heartbreaking to see these animals come in and suffer like they are.”

Prince asked Chicago residents to petition the city and municipal authorities to find alternatives to toxic poisons in the city.

“If we want to live with wildlife, we have to be better stewards and take some of these hazards out of the environment,” Prince said. “We want to be able to continue to enjoy wildlife, otherwise we will have a barren landscape that is toxic for other animals and ultimately will be toxic for us.”

Editor’s note: Previous versions of this story incorrectly attributed a statement about the owl to the Chicago Ornithological Society. The society did not make a statement about the owl.