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Falconry uses good birds to get rid of pest birds
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Master Falconer Fred Seaman of Paso Robles introduces his owl to Ripon Rotarians at the Spring Creek Golf and Country Club. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Falcons, hawks and owls are used to keep foraging birds away from crops such as grapes, blueberries and cherries from California’s Central Coast to the San Joaquin Valley.

Master Falconer Fred Seaman of Airstrike Bird Control Inc. in Paso Robles brought three of his birds out of their cages at a noon meeting of Ripon Rotary at Spring Creek Country Club recently to explain how they are used in bird control solutions for sustainable agriculture, landfills, and resorts as well as industrial and commercial structures.

“Falcons terrify pest birds especially as falcons represent real potential danger,” Seaman said. “Ideally falcons should be flown a week or two before harvest in order to deter the scouting birds.  Then Falcons should be flown daily, seven days a week during the daylight hours, in order to deter the invading birds and reduce crop damage.”.

Seaman noted falconry can be very helpful between the peak of the growing operation and the end of the harvest of grapes. That is especially true when the fruit becomes a very attractive food for pest birds such as Sparrows and Starlings reducing the potential harvest and its potential harvest to the farmer.  Initially the vineyard is early-on explored by smaller flocks.  If those birds enjoy what they have discovered with no obvious danger, the larger flock will follow.

The falconer noted that the starlings and sparrows can often be scared off by noise makers and visual deterrents but they often serve as only a temporary deterrent.  The hunger of the smaller birds will override any fear of non-dangerous elements after a short period of time, he noted.

Blueberries are the most desirable food for the pest birds as they find them nourishing and easy to pluck.  Sparrows and crows are particularly attracted to this crop.  Blueberries have such an attraction that unprotected fields can lose 20 to 80 percent of its crop to the birds.  

Falcons must be flown more intensely, day after day, with blueberries more than with any other crop.  Several falcons are open required to dive down on the scavengers in order to convince the birds to move out of the area.

The challenge to remove the unwelcome birds in landfills is a totally different situation,  Seaman noted.  It involves seagulls and sometimes crows.  Rather than protecting a valuable crop, the falcons are called on to protect neighboring properties from bird droppings.

Falcons and hawks are flown during the day when the landfills are open.  While the landfills often use noisemakers, the proximity of residential neighborhoods can default to the deterrent birds.

Pigeons present yet another problem for the falcons as it has often presented a messy annoyance that creates health issues.  Pigeons are very territorial — once they settle in and establish a  home, they refuse to leave.  Frightening them off “does not work” and they have to be humanely removed.

The Harris Hawks are often used as the first choice after   falcons  The hawk can decelerate faster than the falcons and are more suitable in constricted areas.  The hawks often are used on several on-site visits after a second flock returns to claim the cleared out area.

“Pursuit” is said to be the most effective method of all to scare off the pest birds.  A falcon is released to comb the countryside searching for its target birds and then chase them out of the area.

Falconry is legal across the country in all but two states. It is one of  the most highly regulated of field sports among some 3,000 falconers nationwide.

For more information contact Air Strike Technologies at 805. 391.0444.