H-SAN LUIS OBISPO

Sep 13, 2013 8:20 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Hawks keep seagulls out of landfills

Seagulls are a hazard at the Cold Canyon Landfill because they spread trash and disease to surrounding areas, but some other birds are fighting back by policing the skies.

We're talking about hawks and falcons. The landfill has brought in a team of handlers and their birds over the last few years to hunt down the pests, and the effort is already making a major impact.

"See that right there is the enemy," said falconer Isaac Prewett, pointing out a seagull.

That's the strategy being used at the Cold Canyon Landfill, where a team of predatory birds is keeping a watchful eye on pesky seagulls.

"The gulls can carry diseases like salmonella, stuff like that, so it's a health hazard to workers here and also to the public that comes to dump," said Prewett.

The gulls are also known to pick up trash and drop it in nearby neighborhoods. So far, the program has been a massive success.

"When I started here about two years ago, we had between three and five hundred seagulls," Prewett said.

Today, those numbers are much smaller.

When the day's first scavengers arrive for their next meal, Wolfgang, a Harris hawk, clocks in for work to send the gulls home hungry. Within seconds, the gulls scramble, with Wolfgang in hot pursuit.

When handlers want Wolfgang to return, all it takes is a simple whistle.

Just one of these birds has the ability to chase off more than a thousand seagulls.

The use of predatory birds is nothing new. Falconry dates all the way back to 2000 B.C, a tradition that now continues today in our nation's landfills.

Handlers work with each bird for about two months before they are ready to be on the job.

They say the hawks are perfect for this type of work because of their speed and eyesight. They can spot a mouse from more than a half mile away.

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