VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - Ventura County Public Works Agency has been nationally recognized for a recent study proving that raptors can be more effective than poisons for rodent control.
“The hawks hunt during the day and the owls hunt at night so its 24-7 coverage of our facilities,” said Karl Novak, who’s with Ventura County Public Works.
In Ventura County birds in the sky help dealing with rodents causing damage to levees and dams.
“A ground squirrel can actually burrow horizontally 25-35 feet so it can go right through a levee,” said Novak. “When the water rises and penetrate the levee, the water can go out the other side and it could cause the levee to collapse. One gopher can do even more damage by itself.”
It turns out using predator birds like hawks and owls is better for the environment too, ending the need to use chemicals to kill rodents.
“We found that mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes are all getting poisoned by secondary poisoning so we are looking for a way to find alternatives,” said Novak.
The answer is the Raptor Program. Experts from different agencies like the Ojai raptor center helped with the idea’s of bringing in perches, and owl boxes giving birds of prey an inviting place to go hunting.
“Putting up perches so raptors can see their prey, catch them and feed on them is a win-win because it will help decrease the rodent population and help give our raptors a safe place to feed,” said Lena Chang, who is the senior biologist at Fish and Wildlife.
“Our raptor program was established so we can deter, whether the raptors could do a better job than the rodenticides, and it turned out that they did,” said Novak.
Hawks and owls reduced the damage from ground squirrels by 50 percent compared to using poison.
“We now have 4.4 miles of channels protected by raptor perches and we have ten owl boxes installed as well,” said Novak. “We have five dams that are protected so we are expanding the program and the goal is that by the end of the year we will have all of our facilities protected by raptor perches and owl boxes and we won’t be using rodenticides.”
This is the first program where the effectiveness of birds of prey has been studied on projects like a dam or levee. Other public works agencies are now beginning to use the birds to cut down on the rodents.