Disappearing Pigeons and Rats from a Bronx High School

By Marcia Anderson

Pigeons and rats are disappearing from the terrace, roof and sidewalks of the Roosevelt High School building at 500 Fordham Road in the Bronx, thanks to a pair of red-tailed hawks and their three eyasses, or nestling hawks, which have made the pediment of Collins Hall at the Rose Hill campus of Fordham University  their home. The red-tailed hawk is a large bird of prey, breeds throughout North America and is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The birds have been a mainstay in New York City with many known nesting sites in Manhattan and the Bronx:  5th Avenue, 888 Seventh Avenue, St. John the Divine, Highbridge Park, Inwood Hill Park, South Riverside Park, Houston Street, and Shepard Hall, City College and the Fordham University site.  All sites had productive nests with offspring this past spring.

Over the years, the hawks have nested everywhere from the American Museum of Natural History to the Unisphere in Queens. In 2004, there was a public uproar over a Fifth Avenue co-op building’s decision to destroy a red hawk nest, which had grown to a size of eight feet and 400 pounds. Fordham is an ideal location for the hawks as  there are plenty of squirrels, rats and pigeons for the hawks to prey on while having no predators to worry about.

A Red-tailed Hawk

Garbage and rats are an increasing problem on the sidewalks surrounding the Roosevelt High School building, because the Department of Sanitation has reduced the number of dumpsters allowed for school use throughout New York City.  The garbage bags pile up outside of school buildings and become rat magnets.  The head custodian at Roosevelt High School is very careful not to place highly toxic pesticide baits for the rats outside of the building in an effort to prevent any secondary poisoning for non-target birds or mammals. Secondary poisonings occur when birds of prey, pets, or other wildlife find carcasses, or slow moving rats that have been poisoned by rodenticides. They feast on the toxic rat bodies and could be killed by the toxins themselves.  The custodians use snap traps and less toxic baits in bait stations instead.

The red hawks and their fledglings have done an excellent job reducing the rat population in the area around Fordham University, along with the problem of pigeon debris left on the roof and terraces of the high school and other nearby buildings. Take home message: There is more than just pesticides that can reduce the number of  rats, mice and pigeons in New York City!

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.