Today while watching a feeding, a nice gentleman came up to me to watch and said "those hawks are why we have rats in Washington Square Park". I was taken aback at first but realized it was a chance to educate him about rats in the park.
I told him that the rodent population issues in the park were more complicated than simply a ban on poisons. It's too simplistic to say the rats are there because the use of poisons have been restricted. I informed him that snare traps can be just as effective as poisons when used properly and managed.
I went on to say that I thought the real cause of the rat problem in the park was the failure of the parks department to take preventative measures to control the rodent population. The park simply encourages them due to:
- Providing them large amounts of food.
- Mass feeding of squirrels and pigeons needs to be prevented by updating park regulations. Park patrons are feeding large quantities of food to squirrels and pigeons. A few pieces of bread or the occasional nut have turned into huge bags of food being spread around the park, which end up feeding the rats as well as the targeted animals.
- Inappropriate trash cans. The new trash cans, while beautiful, are too small and are not rat proof. At dusk you can watch the rats run in and out of the trash cans. These need to be replaced.
- Poor trash management. Trash pickups should be timed not just to keep the cans empty, but to make sure they are empty before the rats become active for the evening.
- Poor landscaping. The new park design has tall grasses and other leafy plants in the shady areas of the park and along the fence borders. These protect rat borrows and create a perfect home for the rodents. The Central Park Conservancy had been evaluating ground cover and found that by carefully selecting the appropriate plants, rat borrowing can be discouraged.
It's important for the hawk watching community to prevent a backlash against the restrictions on poisons in the park. We'll need to work with the new Washington Square Park Conservancy to educate them about the complexity of this issue.
It will also mean a reduction of animal feeding in the park which would be very unpopular with the pigeon and squirrel constituencies. This may be the hardest battle.
(...and before anyone says it. A family of hawks will never control the rodent population of Greenwich Village.)