Did you know that ten hens live in the Los Penasquitos Lagoon to help protect us from West Nile Virus? Would you like to know more about this and other things happening behind the scenes at the Reserve? Our new membership benefits include behind the scenes tours that take you to spots not accessible to the general public. Stay tuned for new membership levels and benefits coming soon!
Michelle and Jessica, vector technicians, open a chicken coop hidden somewhere in the Lagoon and out come 10 beautiful red hens. They cluck and spread their wings. Some take dust baths. There is bread and the chickens enjoy their special treat. Two hens move too far from the flock, and Michelle calls them back: “Chickens, chickens.” And they come running! The two scientists pick them up, pat them, giving them lots of attention. This breed is easy to handle and work with.
But in spite of the treats and petting, this visit is not only about play. The two vector technicians put on their protective gear: a suit, a mask, two pairs of gloves on top of each other. They pick up one chicken after the other and tie their feet carefully with cables. The women hold the chickens in their arms and take tiny drops of blood from each chicken’s cone. The chickens seem used to this treatment. One of them closes her eyes as the blood is drawn while resting quietly in Jessica’s arm. Job finished, they all go back into the coop to fresh food and water.
The blood is tested later in the lab for West Nile Virus.
The chickens are the first step in detecting the virus. Other measures taken are mosquito traps and aerial applications of mosquito larvicide.
The chickens will stay in their coop on the Lagoon until around Thanksgiving. When the temperatures go down, the danger of West Nile Virus decreases. That’s when the chickens can retire. The vector technicians keep a waiting list for people who would like to give the chickens a new home.