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Inventing a Better Rat Trap

June 04, 2013


An opened “bait station” – a device for delivering poisoned food (or “bait”) to rats; this one is fitted with a mechanical snap-trap mechanism instead of poison. 

From the first two weeks in March, when the red-tailed hawks who nest outside John Sexton’s office first lay their eggs, until August, when the parents and juvenile birds have a wider range for their hunting, both the NYC Parks Department and the University stop putting poisoned bait around Washington Square to minimize the chance of the hawks eating a poisoned rat.

It appears to have worked: None of the Washington Square hawks have gotten sick over the past three years. Some fellow hawks uptown haven’t been so lucky.

No story is ever that simple, though. It turns out that no other methods work nearly as well in controlling rats as baiting.

This inspired my colleague, Christopher James, who has been deeply involved in the Hawk Cam project since the raptors built their nest on the 12th floor ledge of Bobst. He wondered if we had to live with the either/or, whether something couldn’t be built that wouldn’t pose a peril to the hawks but would pose a peril to the rats around Washington Square.

So, earlier this spring, he took the project to some students and faculty at our engineering school, NYU-Poly, and challenged them to come up with something better. This past Saturday, they held their first "prototyping session."


At left, Sana Altaf, NYU-Poly ’13 and founding member of NYU-Poly’s Greenhouse incubator space, describes an envisioned  prototype—a rat-trap integrated into the base of a garbage can—as Benjamin Cramer, MA candidate in Sustainable Entrepreneurism at NYU Gallatin and co-organizer of Saturday’s session, looks on. Altaf and other participants displayed prototypes on whiteboards and created three-dimensional models to illustrate their ideas.

No breakthroughs yet, but we'll keep you posted.

And speaking of updates: as of yesterday morning, all three of the young hawks have now taken their first flight, and are flying and perching about in the vicinity of Washington Square under their parents' watchful gaze.


The last of the juvenile hawks gets ready to take its first flight (distance to ground – about 150’).

We wish them all well.

--John Beckman

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