Ruby, popular red-tailed hawk, dies; watchers suspect rodent poison in Fresh Pond area

The love story of Ruby and Buzz, two red-tailed hawks, enchanted birdwatchers near Cambridge’s Fresh Pond for four years. They saw the love birds raise a family together, taking turns hunting and incubating Ruby’s eggs, their nest size waxing and waning with the arrival and departure of new chicks.

But their romance came to a tragic end last Friday, when Ruby’s body was discovered under her nesting tree near Fresh Pond Mall — an untimely death veterinarians say was caused by rat poisoning.

Now, the group of devoted birdwatchers is seeking answers as to how Ruby’s death could have been prevented — and they’re hoping to change the way their neighborhood handles its rodent problem.

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“The irony is that there are a ton of traps with rat poisoning, but cruelly they’re not controlling the rats, they’re killing other animals,” said Susan Moses of Cambridge, who has made almost daily pilgrimages to the hawks’ nest since 2010. “We need different types of rat control with different chemicals that are less toxic.”

Ruby likely ate a rodent contaminated with the poison at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery, a popular hunting area for local wildlife in West Cambridge, said Chris Leahy, a field ornithologist at the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The cemetery doesn’t use the poison, but some local businesses do.

“I’ve done work with the cemetery for years, and there have been various birds and mammals that have died from toxic poisoning, so it’s an ongoing thing,” Leahy said. “It seems to indicate that there’s this general rat poisoning in Cambridge, but it could also be that certain businesses with a rat problem near the cemetery are putting out the rodenticide.”

Moses, who brought Ruby’s body to Tufts Wildlife Clinic last Friday for a necropsy, paid out-of-pocket for additional blood testing to identify what chemical led to Ruby’s death. She hopes these results could help her find out what brands of rodenticide are being used in the area, and urge merchants to stop using them.

“Old-fashioned traps are more labor-intensive because somebody has to empty them, but these chemicals are extremely harmful, not just for wildlife, but people’s pets and children,” Moses said. “Hawks die all the time, but there’s a difference when we feel it was caused by human action and could have been prevented.”

Photographer George Mclean, who has catalogued pictures and observations of Buzz and Ruby and other local wildlife for years, says it will take action on the part of business owners to fix the problem.

“There are restaurants, grocery stores, [and] bread factories all over the area,” Mclean said. “The town is getting overwhelmed with rodents, but the creatures who eat the rats die just as easily.”

As for Buzz, Ruby’s long-term mate, the road to recovery has been a short one.

“There is a new female in his life at the moment,” Moses said. “Nature has to continue on, but they’re all at risk.”