The Town of North Hempstead is now using Northern Bobwhite quail chicks to keep the potentially deadly insects at bay.
The ticks are a favorite delicacy of the chicks, which take about 22 days to hatch. On Monday, they go to "camp" at a park in Smithtown.
"We are environmentally conscious," North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said. "We do not want to use toxic chemicals, so we are always looking for out-of-the-box ways of addressing issues such as this."
Ticks can spread Lyme disease and Powassan, a possibly fatal illness that has recently been found in New York and New Jersey.
"It was a mild winter," said Dr. Victor Politi, of Nassau Community Medical Center. "We're going to see a lot of ticks out there. A lot of those ticks do carry other diseases, not just Lyme, but other types of diseases as well."
Powassan attacks the nervous system, affecting memory, thinking and balance, and there is no treatment The largest number of cases reported to the CDC in recent years have been from New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but New Jersey and Pennsylvania are also among the states with cases of Powassan virus.
"There is no treatment, so there is a difference between Lyme and Powassan," registered nurse Kristi Kromholz said. "It's just supportive measures for somebody, and about 10 to 15 percent of people that do get affected do have life-long neurological conditions afterward."
A warmer winter with more rain is expected to lead to an increase in ticks. Anyone who goes into woods or high grass is urged to wear insect repellent with DEET and check kids and adults from head-to-toe afterward. Also, make sure to protect and check your pets.
"They should be removed with forcep, a tweezer," Dr. Politi said. "Always make sure you get the whole tick. Don't leave parts of it on the body, such as the head. The head is where it attaches to your skin. Make sure you take that off with the tweezer as well."
When the chicks are mature enough, around August, they'll be released in the more than 200 wooded areas around North Hempstead Beach Park and Hempstead Harbor Trail.
As an added bonus, the program is also expected to help the decreasing quail population, and at a cost of only $200.