Skagit Farmers Supply

Falcons can protect your berry crop

BIRDS EATING YOUR FRUIT??                                                                                                     By Charlie Anderson

Here’s how to stop them!

Perhaps the greatest frustration I have experienced in growing fruit for my own farm and others is watching birds eat my fruit! Starlings, cedar waxwings and robins will eat 3 to 4 tons per day if they are present in large flocks. Birds also perch on the trellis and deposit guano containing blackberry seeds right into the plant row, not to mention posing a food safety concern.

Only two bird control methods actually work on production berry farms: bird netting over the rows and falconry-based bird abatement. I used to net my Pinot Noir vineyard in Oregon and found it labor intensive and expensive, but effective. Netting was do-able because we only picked the grapes once and it wasn’t too difficult to raise the netting for a single harvest event.

Bird netting is not really practical or cost effective on large farms growing blueberries, raspberries or blackberries which require multiple picks to harvest the fruit. Capital cost, intensive labor required and inability to machine harvest fruit make bird netting second best.

Bird abatement by Master Falconers using trained falcons to haze feeding birds is the answer. Wise growers bring in the Falconer early, before the major migration of starlings and cedar waxwings, as the pest birds are easier to keep out of plantings than to remove them once established in large numbers. The best falconers use several species of falcons in different situations: Aplomado’s will dive right down into the berry canopy after pest birds, Peregrine’s may circle hundreds of feet above the planting then plummet into starling flocks at 200 mph! Kind of like a Swiss Army Knife, Master Falconers use different birds for different situations.

It is imperative for the grower to know their falconer as these folks are truly artists at work. It takes years of experience for a falconer to become proficient at bird abatement. The best falconers have a large stable of birds, modern tracking telemetry, reliable vehicles and tend to work for well managed outfits capable of dealing with infrastructure of the larger farms they serve. From what I have seen, use of hobbyist falconers or licensed farm employees with some training has not been successful.

So what does it cost? Like any good service, effective bird abatement is not cheap, but it is cost-effective if the goal is to produce maximum yields of high quality fruit. The largest growers, particularly those with in-house fruit processing, have gone to falconry as the solution to bird damaged fruit. Smaller growers often band together and share a falconer to reduce the expense.

So what does a grower with a small budget for bird control do if they can’t afford a falconer or bird netting? Recently, the use of “air-dancers”, the fan-driven clowns like you see on used car lots that move constantly, appear to have some ability to scare pest birds. Best practice is to get the air-dancer into the fruit block early and move it around the block frequently. The air-dancer is the only scare device I have seen that birds do not ignore in 2-3 days of use. These fan-driven clowns do not tend to annoy neighbors like propane cannons and electronic scare amplifiers either!

You can contact: Airstrike Bird Control, LLC*

Brad Felger, Manager & Master Falconer


*not affiliated with Skagit Farmers Supply