Barry, the beloved barred owl who died last month in Central Park in a collision with a truck, carried a potentially lethal level of rat poison that could have impaired her flying, a necropsy shows.
The 2-year-old feathered favorite of bird watchers inside Manhattan’s largest park died at around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 6 after being struck by a Central Park Conservancy maintenance vehicle.
She died from blunt-force trauma, according to the report completed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in late August and released to THE CITY through a Freedom of Information Law request.
But veterinarians who performed the necropsy also found high levels of rat poison in Barry’s bloodstream, putting her at risk for a “fatal hemorrhage” even without the collision, the report found. The vets also detected traces of a rat and fish scales inside her more than 2-pound body.
The report could not determine whether Barry appeared to be under duress before the truck hit her.
“The bromadiolone [rat poison] level is potentially lethal but it is unclear if it played a role in the death of this owl, i.e. was the anticoagulant affecting the owl’s ability to avoid collision with the vehicle?” the report asks.
The necropsy said Barry was screened for “multiple anticoagulant rodenticides,” including brodifacoum, chlorophacinone, diphacinone, and warfarin, but only two, bromadiolone and difethialone, were found in her system.
It’s unclear where Barry was poisoned. the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy said it had last used one rodenticide in the urban oasis in July but residential and commercial buildings outside of the park use all sorts of chemicals to combat infestations.
“The most important message to come out of it is that life is really hard because we have made it hard for birds in the city,” said Kaitlyn Parkins, the associate director of conservation and science at New York City Audubon, a nonprofit that advocates for the protection of wild birds and their habitats.
Flying While Intoxicated
Bobby Horvath, a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator who rescues animals at his home on Long Island, said he commonly deals with birds who become impaired after they’ve eaten poisoned rodents.
“Poison is so debilitating to every other animal that comes in contact with it
it affects so many non-target animals,” he said.
“We get a lot of birds of prey from New York City, you might think their injury is one thing but there could be a secondary or underlying issue,” Horvath added. “Barry may have already been sick and compromised.”
After the collision, the truck’s driver brought Barry to the 79th Street Yard for park rangers to later identify her, the report said. Just after 8 a.m., two rangers confirmed the owl was Barry, according to the report.
Workers then brought her to another location to be sent for the necropsy at the DEC’s center in Delmar, where the agency works with Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Predatory birds must hunt for their food and often, like their prey, find their food outside of park boundaries,” Crystal Howard, a Parks Department spokesperson, said in a statement.
The agency does not allow the use of some rodenticides that are listed as high and secondary risks to birds, and uses anticoagulant rodenticides like bromadiolone. The necropsy report found Barry had traces of more lethal chemicals not used by the Parks Department.
“NYC Parks is committed to integrated pest management as our parks are home to many birds of prey — for which we’ve made many strides, especially in parks where they nest,” Howard said.
A spokesperson for the Central Park Conservancy said the nonprofit organization does use bromadiolone “when there is significant rodent activity and non-pesticide interventions do not work.”
In an email, the Conservancy said it administered a rat poison “treatment” to address an infestation along Central Park South for about two weeks in July.
It’s been widely reported that rat populations have surged this year. And Barry would not be the first owl found poisoned in the park.
A 2014 petition by environmental groups to ban toxic pesticides in the park failed.
A Dangerous City
Poisoned rats and mice are often easy meals for birds because they slow down before dying, Parkins said.
“We have sent birds of prey for necropsies, and the vast majority of them have some traces of anticoagulant rodenticides in their bodies,” she said.
Barry could have eaten a poisoned rat from anywhere, she noted.
The death rocked a close-knit birding community, which tracks the various owls, hawks and other birds who make Central Park their home.
“It was terrible when Barry died,” said Kevin Cisco, a 62-year-old birder from Manhattan who mimicked the sound the owl made as it charmed fans across the park.
But he wasn’t surprised that the bird had high levels of rat poison, and thought that she “might not have seen the truck coming.”
In 2012, a number of red-tailed hawks died in parks due to rodenticide.
Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk who captured the city’s attention like Barry nearly 20 years ago thanks to his parkside romance with Fifth Avenue denizen Lola, ended up poisoning some of his babies after unknowingly bringing back rodenticide to the nest.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that Barry had been exposed to brodifacoum, chlorophacinone, diphacinone, and warfarin, but she was merely screened for those toxins. Bromadiolone and difethialone were the pesticides found in her system.