Falconry for Pest Control

Learn how a falconry business is hawking alternative methods of controlling gulls, starlings, and other unwanted avian visitors.

Falconer Danny Duque with Anna, a gyr x peregrine falcon.
Photo by Adam’s Falconry Service

Anna is thought to be among the best female gyr x peregrine falcons in the United States for harassing other birds. You might consider Anna petite, at no more than 2 feet tall when her 3-1/2-foot wingspan is contracted. Set loose on a strawberry farm being terrorized by European starlings, though, she’ll corral and chase off up to 5,000 birds on her own, flying at more than 150 miles per hour. A flock of starlings can decimate 80 percent of a berry crop in about five hours; that’s why Anna’s work is valuable. She’s one of about 20 birds of prey flying for Adam’s Falconry Service, a bird abatement business in Southern California that uses birds of prey as nontoxic, nonlethal bird control.

“It can look like a scene from The Birds,” says Adam Chavez, owner and master falconer of Adam’s Falconry Service, describing the typical job site before he or one of his 15 crew members shows up. Each type of facility tends to attract a particular set of avian pests: Gulls, crows, and ravens plague landfills; starlings target agricultural land; and pigeons infest industrial sites. Every facility manager has tested numerous abatement methods before turning to falcons.

Photo by Adam’s Falconry Service

“They try spikes, mirrors, and noise gadgets like ‘bird bangers’ or whistlers,” Chavez says, describing several clients’ failed attempts at using reflective gel packs, which show lackluster performance after they become dirty, and hotels that have deployed robotic “spiders” to clamber across their rooftops, only to have pest birds dance around them. On berry farms in Oregon and Washington, farmers invest in expensive netting, only to find European starlings reaching right through the netting to snatch fruit. Luckily, falconry abatement can reduce crop loss to only 5 percent, indicative of its efficacy for most bird-beleaguered sites. “Every option loses its effectiveness over time,” Chavez says. Every abatement option except falconry, it seems.

Historical Hawking

“Falconry” serves as a catchall term for the traditional art and practice of keeping, training, and flying most birds of prey, including falcons, kites, hawks, and even owls. (Someone who flies only hawks or eagles would be called an “austringer” by those in the know, while a “hawker” flies birds exclusively for hunting, regardless of species.) More than 100 species of raptors have been trained using falconry techniques in one of the oldest relationships between humans and birds.

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