Here’s a fun “which-would-you-rather.”
Which would you rather? Have lice, or have a nicotine addiction?
This is a question young Peregrine Falcon families across the state of New Jersey are asking themselves this spring, thanks to a small experiment going on in a few, select PEFA eyries.
The problem of lice in Peregrine Falcon nests has been growing over the past several years. The trouble is that these little buggers are persistent, and appear to be laying super-powered-eggs in the substrate of Peregrine nests which have the ability to remain dormant all winter, then spring back to life the next season, infecting the next generation and repeating the cycle. While the lice are not decidedly lethal, they sure are gross and probably super uncomfortable. And in extreme cases these lice could potentially cause a nest failure.
So Kathy Clark & Ben Wurst have made great efforts to treat the young quickly with old-fashioned scrub downs. But this takes time, is disruptive to the nest, and is also totally disgusting. I’ll spare Kathy here by not showing my large collection of her wiping lice poop off of baby Falcons while said lice crawl up her arms and she, rightly, makes a serious “Ewww, are you kidding me!?” face.
So in addition to the regular winter maintenance of popular Peregrine nest sites, Kathy is trying something new: sprinkling some tobacco into the substrate. While tobacco and its nicotine is much maligned in the modern world (thanks to its conflation with the chemical hazards of the cigarette industry), it is in fact an ancient, natural herb which happens to have some of the best anti-parasitic properties on the planet. In fact, some birds are known to collect cigarette butts for their nests to fight parasites, and studies of these nests have proven it actually works.
Whether or not it works for the PEFA remains to be seen. In the meantime, if you happen to see any young Peregrine Falcon smoking, perhaps under bridges or on rooftops, report it to NJ Fish & Wildlife immediately.
Here’s a fun fact on the subject: lots of birds, and raptors especially, are usually crawling with creepies. So if you ever see someone handling a bird and want to take a picture, make it quick. Obviously for the bird’s safety, but also for the sanity of the handler who probably has creepy things crawling up his or her arms and nearing the arm pit by the time you have your shot set up. The poor folks at Project SnowStorm can tell you about this. Those young Snow Owls who show up in the winter are some of the most heavily infested animals you can find. Those painfully forced smiles you sometimes see on the faces of bird handlers who you stop to take a photo of are not because they aren’t nice people; they are just realizing that the lice and other creepies crawling off the bird they are holding have just reached their neck and their waistline.