Barry The Owl Was Poisoned Before Central Park Truck Hit Her

This article was originally published on by THE CITY

Photo of Barry courtesy of Manhattan Bird Alert.

By Katie Honan and Farah Javed, THE CITY

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.

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.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 9 comments | permalink
    1. UWS Birder says:

      While her consumption of poison is itself a deeply worrying part of the report, it is necessary to focus back on the vehicle strike.

      Barry did not merely die of “blunt force trauma” in the popular sense of a strong enough impact to kill her. The necropsy describes in detail the damage to her body. She was absolutely destroyed by that impact. Most of her brain was missing from her skull and her vital organs were massively damaged and partially to mostly outside of her body.

      I’ve seen owls incidentally struck by vehicles who were stunned and inured but anywhere near the degree Barry was. The soft peddling of the actual impact by the Conservancy is hard to take at face value after reading the report. The Conservancy should be upfront about how quickly their vehicle was traveling and what precautions their employees took to be alert to wildlife during their nightshift.

      • Carol says:

        Agree. This just reads to me like someone trying to avoid a lawsuit by manipulating evidence or create more reasonable doubt than evidence suggests.
        Plus, I lived the first part of my life in a rural area….. the injuries you reference are more like things I’ve either seen from a car on a highway at max speed or from a bird that was literally run over by a car.
        Just doesn’t quite add-up to me and my admittedly non-professional nose.
        Call me crazy….. just my sense.

        • UWS Birder says:

          Conservancy claimed their vehicle was driving slowly with the flashers on:

          https://gothamist.com/news/nyc-bird-lovers-mourn-loss-popular-barred-owl-killed-central-park

          The extent of damage to her body makes that very hard to believe. It can still be a terrible accident while being one where the driver’s behavior made it much worse.

        • ST says:

          Has there been an explanation of why park workers were in the park driving around at that hour? The necropsy reads to me like Barry was run over and pretty much smushed. Such a ignoble end.

          • UWS Birder says:

            The park is basically a 24/7 operation. Clean up crews and maintenance work goes on all through the night because people would not tolerate it going on during their daylight hours. Imagine the commotion is would cause if garbage crews were at work and transporting garbage out of the park while joggers and cyclists and dog walkers were enjoying their daily activities?

            Of course, that necessity means that these crews should be even MORE careful. There is just no way that the driver who hit Barry was going slowly with flashers on. The Conservancy is lying – probably to avoid having to discuss whether or not how they conduct themselves is actually safe for wildlife in the Park.

    2. B.B. says:

      So very sad that such a beautiful creature had to die in a horrific way. Then again dying slowly by bleeding to death (result of consuming rodents poisoned with anticoagulants) wouldn’t have been pretty either.

      Owls, hawks and other raptors who prey upon rodents naturally for food are prime candidates for such secondary poisonings.

      https://evgrieve.com/2021/07/one-of-amelia-and-christos-red-tailed.html

    3. B.B. says:

      Parks Department may have cut down on using rodent poison, but surrounding property owners outside of parks have not. Property owners along both CPW and Fifth Avenue wage a constant battle against rats. Part of this relies mainly upon using vast amounts of rodenticide.

    4. Carol says:

      What is “potentially lethal”?

      Is there no clear definition of lethal, or do they lack whatever is necessary to determine/measure the level?
      I would think there is a defined range of what is or is not lethal. So why no clarity?

      This is the kind of thing that makes this stuff seem fishy and manipulative.

    5. Robert Crenshaw says:

      A new rat trap is what is needed!I remember reading or seeing a contraption that looked like a new kinda garbage can, that lured rodents in but they couldn’t get out. Manufacturer said it could be emptied on a regular basis. It was of course a prototype. Parks Dept
      CP-Conservancy needs to go back to the drawing board! Or at least look into reinventing the rat trap!
      Note: at one time in history dogs were bred to find and kill rodents! Let’s think out side the box!
      And, we do need to address the rodent problem in NYC, it’s out of control!