There are six vultures, a red tailed hawk, and a bald eagle circling above my head. They are pestering each other, screaming, circling, circling.
In the past week, six calves have been morn at the dairy. The birds are attracted to the placentas. And across the street, the hay is being mown and lots of mice and voles are being exposed.
Are the vultures spotting the eagles and following them? Who is protecting his territory and who is the intruder?
The bird management that we see out in the fruit orchards ranges from shotguns to live traps to cannons to one of the coolest, and arguably most effective, strategies: falconry. During an assessment the other day, I had the chance to talk with a professional falconer who has been on the job for 50 years. Falconers are called onto blueberry fields once the fruit is ripening to keep the birds away. He works for 4 or 5 hours straight and flies the three birds he keeps in the back of his pickup on rotation.
That day, we saw him with an Aplomado Falcon working the fields. It’s a smaller, beautiful bird that actively pursued pest birds but didn’t kill them. The bird circled the field every once in a while and followed his commands. The falconer would wave his arm up and down at the side of his body to bring the bird back to the truck. Upon arrival, he flicked a bit of starling meat up in the air as a reward. He trains them to not be lethal so that they stay healthy, fit, and motivated. It is just remarkable how these falcons can fly so far with so much freedom and respond to the falconer’s request. Often times I wouldn’t know the bird was right above my head until I hear the bells that are tied on its feet.
“Aplos” are common pursuit birds, but he said that Cooper’s Hakws are the best at keeping birds at bay. Fortunately, there was one nesting on the far side of the field, so his birds had little work to do. In the 45 minutes we talked to him, we also saw a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk and a Bald Eagle. Those were present because of the patches of coniferous forest that bordered the field in places. While those can be good spots for robins and starlings to take roost (promoting an expansive, monoculture practice of keeping fields surrounded by more and more fields to decrease bird pressure), the trees house natural predators that allow farmers to forgo much bird management at all. While falconers can be upwards of $500 an hour, it seems to be the best management strategy so far. We’ll see how our statistics play out.
Watch for the falcon!