23 December 2012
HELP FROM ABOVE
This is fascinating, a green creative solution for those plagued by an unnatural abundance of fellow creatures ~ in this case, flocks of birds which consume the fruits of the labors of California vineyards and farms. Enter an ancient sport.
Traditionally, the eagles, hawks and falcons used in falconry were trained to hunt and kill wild quarry in its natural habitat. But companies like Airstrike Bird Control are more concerned with abatement, i.e. driving the pest species elsewhere. Hence their raptors are trained to behave only as a threat. Here's how it works, as described in the NYTimes article ~
"For each Airstrike Bird Control Assignment, a master falconer is deployed to scare away the problem birds by using either hawks or falcons. Hawks are better for smaller spaces. Falcons, which fly at a higher altitude, are more suitable for large areas, like vineyards.
" 'The objective of the program is what we call hazing,' said Brad Felger, co-owner of Airstrike Bird Control. 'You're intimidating them, you're scaring them, so they don't want to be there.' "
"During the early, intensive part of the program, the falconers and the birds are at the job site seven days a week. Once the problem is under control, they scale back their schedule. Work can be seasonal or year-round. The practice is catching on, particularly among farmers and wine growers whose livelihoods depend on sustaining their crops. [Other clients may be urban, such as an office park with an artificial pond which attracts hundreds of sea gulls, pigeons, and crows that would otherwise leave behind bacteria and droppings.]
"The use of falconry is an alternative to products like noise cannons and netting systems, as well as repellents applied to ledges that make it uncomfortable for birds to land .... In recent years, jobs like those at the office park have emerged as interest in sustainable approaches to bird control has increased."
It strikes me that a number of urban settings could benefit from raptor patrols ~ city parks, waterfronts, and airports. (Bird strikes by aircraft are more probable at low altitudes, during the takeoff and landing phases of flight. That is when they may be the most hazardous as well, since the aircraft is operating at relatively low airspeed, with lower flight control response in an emergency.)
Here are the raptors most commonly used in modern falconry. I'm especially partial to the Harris's Hawk (see above, click to enlarge), which is native to the desert southwest. Their coloration is striking, and unlike most raptors which are solitary hunters in the wild, Harris's Hawks hunt in cooperative groups of two to six.