EL CERRITO, Calif. (KRON) — A Harris hawk named “Pac-Man” is patrolling a Bay Area Rapid Transit station in El Cerrito to help solve a pigeon problem.

“He’s got a very important job to do: manage the pigeon population at the above ground BART station. Pigeons are non-native, non-migratory, and invasive. The city-loving birds, if left unchecked, can roost in a single location for years,” BART officials wrote Friday.

Pac-Man’s handler, Ricky Ortiz of Falcon Force, said, “It’s hard to beat a Harris hawk when it comes down to it. In the wild, they live and hunt in family groups. They’re known as ‘wolves of the sky.’”

In late May, BART hired Falcon Force, a small business based out of La Crescenta, Calif., for bird nuisance abatement services. Now, Pac-Man and his handler can be found at El Cerrito del Norte Station three times a week.

In just a few weeks, Ortiz said he’s noticed a huge difference in the number of pigeons in the station. “The first day I was here, there were pigeons everywhere.” But the pigeons appear to be getting the message: This station is now hawk territory.

Pac-Man the Harris hawk patrols a BART station in El Cerrito. (Image courtesy BART)

While terrifying to pigeons, Harris hawks are ideal raptors for this sort of work because they’re mellow and social. “These birds are used to hustle and bustle. The noise from the BART train doesn’t even faze him,” Ortiz explained.

When Pac-Man is not busy scaring off pigeons, he’s providing entertainment and education for BART riders. Many riders stop to ask Ortiz about his majestic bird of prey. Cell phone cameras pop up wherever Pac-Man flies. And if he flies too far from Ortiz, the handler’s handy whistle calls him back in seconds.

“The Harris’s Hawk is a stunning raptor with a dark chestnut back and chest that contrast with its bright rusty-colored thighs and wing patches. It has a broad, wide stripe at the base of its tail. Its broad wings and tail make it ideally adapted to soaring,” according to bird experts with the Peregrine Fund.

Pac-Man shows off his wingspan while flying above the BART station. (Image courtesy BART)

BART officials said the station’s troublesome flocks of pigeons create a health hazard for commuters who wait for trains at the station daily. “Their droppings can carry bacteria, fungal agents, and ectoparasites that can impact humans,” officials wrote.

Over the years, BART has made numerous failed attempts to shoo away the pigeons. Hundreds of bird-repellant spikes and netting were fastened to ledges, pipes, fare machines, and other surfaces in the station in 2021.

“We brought in owl statues, we tried nets, we tried various measures with noise. We did quite a bit to see how we could gently move them along,” said Wahid Amiri, project manager for the El Cerrito del Norte Station Modernization Project. “Nothing was successful.”

These spikey things did not help deter pigeons from roosting in the El Cerrito BART station. (Image courtesy BART)

Hawks such as Pac-Man are natural-born predators and their presence alone deters smaller birds like pigeons.

BART officials said there are more hostile modes of dealing with pigeons, including horns, “bird bombs,” traps, and poisons. Employing a hawk for abatement has proven to be less disruptive and more effective. “Trapping works to an extent, but you can only trap so many,” Ortiz explained.

If all goes to plan, the hawk will provide a long-term solution to the pigeon problem, BART officials said.

Pac-Man is not the only bird who’s made news headlines this week. On Thursday, an enormous great blue heron photo-bombed KRON4 news anchors Darya Folsom and James Fletcher on live TV during their 6 a.m. newscast.

The wild great blue heron swooped down from the sky and landed on the studio’s outdoor window ledge — directly behind the anchor desk. KRON4’s studio is located along San Francisco’s Embarcadero near the waterfront.

Folsom was happy to have an unexpected drop-in anchor for the morning show and named him “Big Bird.” “This is amazing!” Folsom said. Watch the heron’s live TV moment below: