Biologists with the NYS DEC say rat poison likely killed the great horned owl living in Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery last month.
The owl was a popular sight for bird watchers and visitors to the cemetery and was just two years old when it was found dead.
"That's why this situation was weird because one day it was there and the next day it dropped dead, seemingly without a cause," Tom Kerr said. Kerr is a naturalist with Buffalo Audubon Society.
Forest Lawn President Joe Dispenza said the incident was "terribly unfortunate". The poison didn't come from the cemetery, as Dispenza explained they don't use animal or rat poison on the property.
"As a unique natural habitat in the city of Buffalo with many wildlife species, we are looking to our partners and the DEC to help provide direction to our community to help prevent any contamination of our parks and cemetery," Dispenza said.
Kerr said it's likely the owl left the cemetery to hunt where it came across, and ate, a poisoned rat. It is a common problem for birds of prey in cities. Poisoned rats and rodents don't die immediately and can become easy targets for owls and hawks.
"It just looks like an easy meal to them," Kerr explained. "A sick, dying rat is easy for them to grab and pick up and carry back and eat. So it's really, really hard to figure out where it came from."
In a statement, the Erie County Department of Health, which does use poison as one method to control the rodent population, said "every step necessary to prevent secondary poisoning of a non-targeted animal is taken".
The DEC is currently performing tests to confirm the preliminary results, but those will not be available for several weeks.