Contra Costa looks to birds to control squirrels

January 4, 2010 6:49:23 PM PST
You would not think that squirrels would make the news, but when they descend on a community in such huge numbers like they have in Walnut Creek, they certainly do. There are squirrels everywhere and doing damage, but the people would rather see them plucked from the sky than be poisoned on the ground.

Beth Slate is with Contra Costa County's Agriculture Department. She says the county is luring birds to come here to help solve what some say is a crisis.

"Yes we are. We welcome them," says Slate.

You might say, this county really is going to the birds. In fact, they have even built welcome mats to attract them ? specifically with raptor perches.

"We want to encourage the hawks which are a lot more suburban, residential friendly to reduce the squirrel population," says Slate.

The county says it is being overrun by ground squirrels. They've been on a rampage, wrecking havoc on gardens and digging up lawns. Their burrows are everywhere.

One Walnut Creek resident bought smoke bombs to take out the squirrels. He says they're devouring the vegetables in his garden. He added "They eat everything, so yes, they can be very destructive."

The rodents are also destroying infrastructure. Their burrows have weakened a set of old ranch buildings and undermined roads such as this one.

"It just weakens the road and causes this erosion to occur, or this settling, or the breaking on the road," says Slate.

This fall, the county built 20 of the perches, strategically placing them next to large colonies of burrows to attract raptors.

"They like to perch in an open area looking over an open field and swoop down and get their prey," says Agricultural commissioner Vince Guise.

The county also uses pesticides to control the rodent population, but officials say this method lets nature to do the job. Project officials are optimistic these perches will work and that their squirrel problem will fly away.