North Hempstead is taking a feathers-and-beaks approach to combating ticks this summer.
Town officials have hatched three dozen northern bobwhite quail eggs. The town will eventually release the quail to devour ticks.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said releasing quails, a tick’s natural predator, is a more eco-friendly way of eliminating the insects than spraying insecticide.
“I feel like we’re the proud parents of 36 quail,” Bosworth said Thursday while holding one of the tiny eggs.
Ticks are most active in warmer months and they can carry many pathogens — the most noteworthy is a bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Town officials, who acquired the quails from a hatchery in Iowa, have created a live video stream of the birds at northhempsteadny.gov/quailcam.
The quail experiment is a pilot program that could be used again next year if it is successful, Bosworth said. The initiative is similar to a move town officials made last summer when they built more bat houses so bats could come eat mosquitoes.
Bosworth said the use of bats last year and the quails this summer boils down to one message: “The answer to everything isn’t just spraying toxic chemicals.”
Eric Powers, a biologist who lives in Smithtown, is the birds’ foster dad. Powers, who has hatched and released thousands of quail on Long Island and hosts a nature show on North Hempstead TV, said the eggs had to stay in an enclosed, 99.5-degree environment before hatching.
“As soon as they hatch, they will be wet, and then their feathers will fluff,” Powers said. “But in that first hour, that’s when they’re most susceptible to hypothermia.”
The quail are now in a large tank with a heat lamp on one side and their food and water on the other. The goal is to get the birds to walk from one end of the tank to eat and then back to the other side for lamp warmth, effectively giving them exercise and boosting their metabolism. The birds will soon be transported to Caleb Smith State Park in Smithtown for further maturation.
Powers said it will take the birds 2 1⁄2 months to be ready for release into the wooded area across from North Hempstead Beach Park and throughout Hempstead Harbor Nature Sanctuary. They will not be named or tagged.
Powers couldn’t point to any scientific evidence stating that tick populations plummet once quail are introduced to an area, but he and Bosworth said they’re confident the birds will help.
“There’s a marked difference,” Powers said. “You can go to an area where there are ticks and you release some quails, then, the next day, you come back, and you can’t find any.”