UC-Berkeley officials consider using owls to control rats in People's Park
By Kristin Bender and Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
Article Launched: 10/17/2008
Oct. 17--BERKELEY -- Barn owl boxes in Berkeley?
In an effort to reduce the number of grayish-brown rats that scamper
around People's Park in the morning, eating scraps of food and hiding
in the agave plants, the People's Park Community Advisory Board will
consider a proposal to install wooden owl boxes in the park to
attract predator owls.
Barn owls, which can eat at least a dozen or so rats a night, could
be non-toxic rodent controllers in the 2.8-acre UC-Berkeley-owned
park off Telegraph Avenue, university officials said.
"I was noticing them in the morning and I realize we live in an urban
area where there are going to be rats, but when I was seeing them
clearly in the daytime that's when I knew it was a problem," said
Devin Woolridge, park site coordinator.
Luis Mendez, who empties the park's trash cans in the mornings, said
groups that leave food for homeless people in the park are to blame
for the increase in rats.
Also, people who eat meals from Food Not Bombs often leave their
scraps on the ground even though the group cleans up before it
leaves, Mendez said. He said he saw an increase in rats about five
months ago, about the same time the number of homeless people staying
in the park spiked.
"I have suggested they take the food (handouts) somewhere else, like
to one of the churches nearby," Mendez said. "There's a lot of rats
here; they're big and they're not afraid of you anymore. This is a
nice park, but it's contaminated."
Lydia Gans, a volunteer with Food Not Bombs, said the group picks up
everything and takes leftover food for composting. "We also walk
around the park and ask people to clean up," she said.
Irene Hegarty, the director of the university's office of community
relations, downplayed the rat situation.
"The rat population gets noticeable from time to time with standing
water, food at the park and foliage," she said. "There happens to be
a creek system in Berkeley and we have rats. Every once in a while
you see them. I'm sure that other parks in Berkeley have them."
The agave plants in the park don't make getting rid of the rats any
easier, Woolridge said. "No predator can get in there after them. No
bird is going to get to them. It's even hard to stick bait in there,"
he said of the 5- to 6-inch rats.
He said owl boxes could work.
"I do think it's something we could do but we need to look at how
many, and in what trees. I would want us to do some more homework on
it," he said.
Lisa Owens Viani, founder of Keep Barn Owls in Berkeley, said putting
up an owl box or two couldn't hurt.
"There is no guarantee that the owls are going to move into the box,"
which is usually about 3-feet tall by a foot-and-a-half wide. "We do
use the boxes for the owls to nest in because we don't have the big
old trees (with the cavities) that owls used to go to nest."
Owens Viani, who started the non-profit two years ago, said she
supports the idea as long as neither the university nor nearby
businesses or restaurants use rat bait on the rodents in the park,
which has been done recently. "They can't use any kind of poison
because if the owls eat the rats they won't live," she said.
Owl boxes, which have been up on poles for at least five years in
Cesar Chavez Park, have been successful at controlling an
overabundance of squirrels at the Berkeley park, said Patty Donald,
coordinator at the Shorebird Nature Center. "We've just started to
see owls in them the last year," she said.
In addition to the owl boxes, there are signs asking people not to
feed the squirrels.
"If the ground squirrels eat food that is not natural to them, they
grow obese and then they (mate more) and then in the winter people
aren't feeding them and they get really sick," Donald said. "The owls
are a natural predator that will hopefully take care of the young squirrels."
Two years ago, the city temporarily closed the Willard Park tot lot
for several weeks to oust some rats. Traps, rather than poisons or
pesticides, were used to get rid of the rats, which had found a home
in some dense vegetation between the park tennis courts. There was
also talk of bringing in barn owls.
William Rogers, the city's director of parks, recreation and
waterfront, said there hasn't been a rat problem in other city parks
recently. But "we do assume that all of our parks have rats," he said.
Clearing vegetation that might become a rat habitat helps control the
problems, as does working with the vector control unit in the city to
assess for the size of the population and the food source."
Owls considered to go after rats in Berkeley park
Friday, October 17, 2008
A Berkeley group is looking at owls to solve a rat problem in the
famed People's Park.
The People's Park Community Advisory Board will consider a proposal
to install wooden owl boxes in the park to attract the predators.
Barn owls can eat at least a dozen rats a night.
Some residents blame an increasing rat population on food scraps left
by homeless and the groups that deliver them food. But those groups
say they clean up all the food provided.
Nonprofit organization Keep Barn Owls Berkeley said the move couldn't
hurt as long as poison isn't being used on the rodents in the park
that would also harm the owls.