SAN DIEGO (AP) _ El Nino may be on its way out, but not without leaving a parting gift _ rattlesnakes.

After bringing an unusually wet winter to Southern California, El Nino is tapering off. But the once-endless rain means more food this spring for rats and mice, and more rodents means more rattlers.

``It's been a jump start this year for the rattlesnakes,'' said Lt. Mary Kay Gagliardo of the San Diego County Animal Control Department. ``They've been hibernating through this long, cold winter and now the breeding season is starting. By the middle of the summer, expect to see a lot of little ones.''

Gagliardo's department gets a couple of calls each day from residents who have come upon the poisonous reptiles in their garages and yards.

The global weather phenomenon is only part of the reason for the calls. Urban sprawl means a greater likelihood that someone will run into one of the reptiles.

During the last week of April, the county's poison center received reports of six people being bitten by rattlesnakes. But animal experts say snakes are relatively harmless, and they do a lot more good than harm by feeding on rodents.

``Rattlesnakes do not see humans as prey,'' said Sally Shelton, director of collections for the San Diego Natural History Museum. ``They would much rather leave you alone and get away than strike.''

Experts recommend leaving the snakes alone, though if they persist, Gagliardo sometimes tells people to cut off the snake's head with a shovel.

``Generally, the snake will just sit there while you cut its head off,'' she said.

Even if someone is bitten, chances of survival are very good because of improved antidotes and because in 20 to 30 percent of bites, the snake is not able to inject venom.