Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ruby Exposed

Image: George McLean
Ruby was a glorious red-tail hawk that was celebrated in the city of Cambridge, one of a nesting pair with many human admirers. A week ago, however, Ruby was found at the base of the nest she shared with Buzz, having succumbed to the effects of rat poison. A half century after Rachel Carson warned of the effects of pesticides -- particularly on top predators -- the use of poisons remains surprisingly unregulated.

The environmental concerns surrounding the management of pests in urban settings are as complex as they are in agriculture, but it is no less important to address them more seriously. Charismatic megafauna such as hawks and eagles draw attention to risks that are much broader, whether they relate to low-dose chronic exposures as detailed in Silent Spring or in high-dose acute exposures brought on by the careless use of rat traps by restaurants.

Ruby was found under the tree in which she had been nesting at the Fresh Pond Mall (which seems to be more "mall" than "fresh" or "pond") in Cambridge. It is perhaps surprising that although she was nesting in a built-up area, the poisoning seems to have occurred in the open space of the Mount Auburn Cemetery a half-mile to the south.

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