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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Life and Death in Interlaken

The Barred Owls in Interlaken Park have been an amazing source of inspiration for many years. 
If you have been lucky enough to watch the parents bring food to their young or…

...heard them calling back and forth or

...even just stopped to watch one of the birds doze somewhere near

...the nesting tree, you know what I mean.

Sadly, the male bird has become a casualty in the conflict between humans and rats. Earlier this week Kari Olson sent an email appropriately titled "Unintended Consequences".


Last Thursday Interlaken's male Barred Owl was found on the road near the nest site in the large cottonwood tree. It was in fatal distress and taken to a vet where it died from injesting a rat who had eaten rat poison. Where there are people, there are rats and where there are rats there are raptor's, pets and poisons.  

Last Saturday another forest steward and I planted trees in the Interlaken / Boren Park area where a grave yard of clematis vines lay strewn about, we commented to each other, "It smells like something's dead around here"...sure enough dead rats. The bodies were without magots or other clean up insects making good on the free meal. With this said, the vicinity of 19th Ave. E. & Interlaken Drive/Interlaken Blvd. does have a serious rat infestation taking place.

I am not sure how long it will take for the female to find another mate. No doubt we'll hear nightly owl hoots as they hunt rats or other critters…hopefully not poisoned.


Just a few days before Kari sent her email I met a man in Interlaken who said that in January of 2013 he found a dead adult owl in Boren Park with no visible external injuries. While we do not know for sure what caused the death of the 2013 owl it seems likely it might have been another case of unintended poisoning.

Given that we treasure the owls and do not want to live with the rats it would be wonderful if we could come up with a number of functional alternatives to rat poison. Over the last 25 years rats have tried to use our home for shelter twice. In both cases it was after contractors had completed their work but left an opening that allowed the rats access to a prime nesting spot e.g. the attic or the crawl space. 

The solution was the same in each situation. Seal the access points and then set out old-fashioned spring-loaded rat traps, baited with peanut butter. This required no poison and also had the added advantage that the rats did not crawl off into some remote, unknown area of the attic or crawl space where their odor would have been an unpleasant reminder of their passing.

This approach would have been more difficult if the rats had made it into the living space  where small children or pets could have sprung the traps. In that situation I can imagine building a shoebox-sized trap container with a hole that only a rat could enter. Feel free to add your own suggestions for other options in the comments below. 

The good news is a Barred Owl was back in the same roost in the hemlock tree this week. Last year the owls seemed to spend a lot of time in the cedar just southeast of the cottonwood. However for the last couple of weeks at least one of the owls has been roosting consistently in the tall hemlock which is more directly south of the cottonwood and on the west side of the small stream of water. 

It seems logical to assume the owl seen this week is the female, however we can hope she has attracted another mate already. The only way we will know for sure is if we watch to see if we can spot two owls at the same time. 
If you happen to see two of them, that would be great news to share in the comments section below.

Another unknown in this process is whether the female has already laid eggs or whether the male has already fertilized eggs she is carrying. If she ends up laying eggs on her own then it could be quite a struggle for her to feed herself and any young (like the one above) that may hatch out. Not to mention keeping the eggs warm, protecting the nest and feeding herself in the meantime.

On a more positive note, this week Wood Ducks have been searching for nesting sites south of Foster Island and…

...Chestnut-backed Chickadees have been working furiously at…

...cleaning out a nesting hole…

...near by.

Also even though the Downy Woodpeckers nesting tree fell this winter a male Downy has been hanging around near by and hopefully he and his mate will excavate a new nesting site.

Have a great day on Union Bay…where nature still lives in the city!



Here is a link to suggestions from King County on how to deal with rats.


Here are some links I just found related to the EPA and their position on rat poison. 


They are attempting a ban on 12 products due to secondary poisoning and one of the manufacturers is fighting it. 



  1. Larry, your photos are amazing! We had to have our majestic old (100 years+ ?) big leaf maple tree 'shrubbified' to 25 feet in February because it was very sick. So the top 75 feet or so came down and we are left with a gigantic 'shrub' that resembles a huge saguaro cactus. Soon after the work was finished on the tree we saw a pileated woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, and lately a Swainson's Hawk has been hanging out on one of the stumps. He sat up there devouring his squirrel supper the other evening. I haven't been writing much about the eagles (who I still refer to as Ethel and Ernest) but look forward to following them during their nesting this spring. Any sightings on eggs?

    1. I have seen Eva (or Ethel from your point of view) sitting in the nest quite often during the month of March. I am thinking that is a good sign for young eaglets this year,