New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1999) 23(2): 261- 266

Do colours that deter birds affect cereal bait acceptance by possums (Trichosurus vulpecula)?

Research Article
Tim D. Day  
Lindsay R. Matthews  
  1. Animal Behaviour and Welfare Research Centre, AgResearch Ruakura, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton, New Zealand

Poisonous baits used for pest control in New Zealand commonly contain green dye and cinnamon oil to make them less attractive to birds. Research aimed at reducing the impact of poison based pest control on birds has shown that some birds are initially deterred from feeding on blue or, to a lesser extent, green coloured food and are attracted to yellow or red food. We determined whether colours that deter or attract birds affected the acceptance of non-toxic and toxic cereal baits by captive brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Individual possums were offered, daily, a choice between a standard green dyed non-toxic cereal bait and either a blue dyed(17 possums) or yellow dyed non-toxic bait (16 possums) for 10 days. Following this, for the first group of 17 possums, 1080 toxin was added to either the green bait (9 possums) or blue bait (8 possums) and possums were offered the green versus blue choice again. Two additional groups that had not previously been fed cereal baits were also given a choice between blue and green baits, one of which was toxic. All possums offered non-toxic bait ate less on the first day of presentation than on subsequent days. There was no difference in acceptance of either blue or yellow coloured non-toxic bait compared to the standard green non- toxic bait on any days. Bait colour appeared to be unimportant in cereal bait choice and did not deter possums from eating any of the baits. The addition of toxin to baits did not significantly alter bait choice in any groups, although some individuals which had no previous experience with baits ate more toxic than non-toxic bait. These data suggest that adding a stronger bird deterring colour (i.e., blue) to poisonous baits is unlikely to adversely affect the acceptance of baits by possums.