Wild hogs take the headlines when it comes to crop destruction, but for many farmers, birds should get top billing. Bird damage across the United States costs growers hundreds of millions in annual profit — an approximate $50-million tab for California’s wine grape industry alone.
Whether it’s the report of propane guns over vineyards, rice, and fish farms; or the use of custom noise-makers; or even a traditional scarecrow — bird prevention is often a losing battle. Similar to hog infestations, bird damage is often absorbed by farmers as an assumed input cost.
The LA Times recently highlighted the use of falcons to patrol cropland and the results appear worthy of consideration. Vahe Alaverdian and his birds of prey were hired three years ago by Washington berry grower Mark Flamm to drive away crop-eating sparrows and starlings. The results have been remarkable. In past years, Flamm lost up to 20 percent of his berry crop to birds. After Alaverdian’s falcons arrived, losses dropped to 3 percent.
“Using a hunting technique that some think dates back to the Bronze Age, Alaverdian prompted his raptors to launch into a series of high-speed dives, called ‘stooping,’ meant to mimic the capture of winged prey. The maneuvers — not unlike an aeronautical war dance — trigger an innate panic attack in the fruit-munching birds, who are either paralyzed with fear or flee for new surroundings.”
The falcons are trained to frighten, not eat, sparrows and starlings. But the there can sometimes be some overlap, although Alverdian prefers to feed them each day.
Alaverdian’s Falcon Force protection doesn’t come cheap; he charges $700 per day and his services may be needed for several months. But for large growers that can’t afford exorbitant netting costs and haven’t found any other successful means of prevention — Alaverdian’s falcons may be a fit. “Anything that doesn’t change day to day, the birds will get used to it,” he says.
Alaverdian starts at 6 a.m., driving around with a carload of masked falcons, looking for flocks of nuisance birds coming in. “We protect cherries, blueberries and wine grapes from starlings for the most part, which are non-native birds to this continent.” He works his falcons for 5-6 months each year, first flying over blueberries and cherries in Washington, and then grapes in Central California.
According to the Times, falconry is finding increasing use in crop protection. “E. & J. Gallo Winery has been using falcons for eight years in Sonoma County. Kendall Jackson Winery has been doing it just as long in Monterey and Sonoma counties.”
For the full article and to see a video of Alaverdian patrolling with his falcons, see Farmers using Falcons to scare of crop-eating birds or see below for video of Alaverdian discussing his falcons:
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