Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco has adopted a novel solution to dealing with pigeons and their droppings: using a bird of prey to scare them away.
At the BART station in El Cerrito, California, falconer Ricky Ortiz and his Harris’s hawk named “Pac-Man” patrol for pigeons. Hawks like Pac-Man are natural predators of pigeons.
“A bird of prey works really well. When the pigeons see the predator, it’s instinct for them not to want to be around,” Mr. Ortiz noted in a BART press release.
Previous deterrence methods had not succeeded in driving away the pigeons.
“We brought in owl statues, we tried nets, we tried various measures with noise … Nothing was successful,” Wahid Amiri, project manager for the El Cerrito del Norte Station Modernization Project, said in the press release.
The transit authority wants to warn away pigeons not just because their droppings are an eyesore for customers, but because those droppings also spread bacteria and parasites.
Stations offer plentiful perches to pigeons, especially in urban areas where natural habitats may be sparse.
“The first day I was here, there were pigeons everywhere. The next week, after Pac-Man showed up, there were way fewer,” Mr. Ortiz said.
Pac-Man has already made an impact on the pigeon presence in El Cerrito station. The pair patrol three times a week, with Mr. Ortiz feeding Pac-Man to prevent the hawk from feeding on rats or on the pigeons themselves.
“There was probably less than half of the pigeons here after the week of us flying,” Mr. Ortiz told Reuters.
Mr. Ortiz works for Falcon Force, a pest management company. He and his boss, Vahe Alaverdian, attribute their success to the species they use.
Harris’s hawks are the only social species of raptor, hunting and feeding in groups much like wolves. Socialization also helps them work well in crowds and with human beings, who domesticated wolves into today’s dogs.
“Because of their social nature, they are the perfect and most adaptable species to take on this kind of relationship that we have with these birds — in tight places, in public, with noises [and] trains coming and going,” Mr. Alaverdian told National Public Radio.