Replacing Poisons with Hawks for Rodent Control

Reader Contribution by Consortium Media
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The Ventura County Public Works Agency (VCPWA) has conducted the Raptor Pilot Study to observe the effectiveness of predator birds in controlling wild rodent populations. This study is the first of its kind in, and was done in order to discover if predator birds, such as hawks and owls, could be effective than poisons to control rodent populations in California.

Ground rodents can cause significant damage in levees earth dams and other flood control channels. The ground squirrel and gopher populations have been digging tunnels up to 35 feet long under levees, rendering the levees unsafe. A single gopher can also move about one ton of earth every year. So far, these rodent populations have been controlled with harmful poisons.

Unfortunately, these poisons are not only effecting the rodent populations; other larger mammals in the area have also been poisoned in this process. Deceased bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions in the area have been found with anticoagulant rodenticide residues in their blood.

This is the first time that any agency has tested and quantified the impacts that predator birds on wild rodent populations. Over the course of 17 months, the Raptor Pilot Study released hawks and owls into highly populated rodent areas and studied the effects of their presence on the rodent populations. These birds of prey were able to reduce the populations safely, eliminating the need for rodenticides in the area.

In accordance with this information, as well as the contaminated blood found in deceased larger mammals in the area, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors order all county agencies to discontinue the use of rodenticides and other poisons.

This study has not only proven that birds of prey be an environmentally-friendly substitute to using poisons, but that these predators are more effective than using harmful poisons in the area. The VCPWA showed in this study that using predator birds to hunt the rodents actually reduced burrowing damage by 50 percent when compared to using anticoagulant rodenticides.

“We believe the VCPWA Raptor Pilot Study is the first to quantify the dramatic impact of attracting raptors and finds a natural, chemical-free way to control burrowing rodents,” said Karl Novak, VCPWA Deputy Director of Operations and Maintenance. “We think that comprehensive monitoring and continued expansion of the raptor program will result in cost effective and environmentally safe rodent control throughout our watersheds.”

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