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Local Girl Scout takes on L.I. tick problem

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Two years ago, Leanna Pignataro, 16, of Freeport, went camping at Camp Blue Bay, in East Hampton, with Baldwin’s Girl Scout Troop 2144. 

But as the troop enjoyed camp activities together, the scouts fell victim to ticks, which have long plagued Long Island’s forests and grassy areas. These ticks typically feast on deer, but they can also bite humans and can carry Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan virus.

As she discussed the experience with her parents, Leanna decided she wanted to do something about this tick problem for her Gold Award project, the Gold Award being the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. 

“We usually deal with ticks with sprays and pesticides, but I wanted to find a natural solution to this problem,” Leanna said. “I decided to raise quails, which eat these ticks, and release them into the wild.” 

Leanna chose the northern bobwhite quail, which is native to Long Island and whose population has dropped because of habitat loss and feral cats. 

At the start of 2020, Leanna settled on the idea and got to work, purchasing 40 quail eggs and an incubator for her and her family to take care of through April and May. 

Marilyn Pignataro, Leanna’s mother and a teaching assistant at the Giblyn Elementary School, said the project was an exciting event at the house given the shutdowns caused by the pandemic. 

“It was a fun experience and perfect since we didn’t have much else to do,” Marilyn said. “She really worked hard raising them and completing the project.” 

By the end of spring, Leanna hatched 35 quails, which she continued to raise until they were ready to be released in July. 

Through the help of the Clark Botanic Gardens, in Roslyn Heights, which aids in the release of quails into the wild, Leanna freed her hatchlings at Camp Blue Bay and at the Hempstead Harbor Shoreline Park, in Port Washington.      

Leanna made a recent presentation about her project to the members of Operation SPLASH, in Freeport, on Nov. 3. The group, which works to clean up the South Shore and protect its harbors, was impressed by Leanna’s work. 

“What an environmentally responsible way to rid Long Island of ticks by using tick-eating quail instead of pesticides that don’t discriminate between good and bad insects,” remarked Rob Weltner, president of Operation SPLASH.

Leanna said she hoped that by spreading the word about her project, people might also take up the cause and raise a few quails. 

“This is an important, natural solution to a real problem we have,” Leanna said. “Ticks are harmful and can grow to resist pesticides, so this something that we should try.” 

Marilyn added that Leanna would be available to host presentations of her project, like the one she did with Operation SPLASH, to other local groups and organizations in November and December. Those interested can email Marilyn at marilyn.pignataro@gmail.com.