Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Feathered Friends

Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand are using falcons to scare off smaller birds such as starlings from eating the grapes. The more traditional alternatives include expensive netting over the vines, scarecrows or loud noises to startle the birds.

In California, Getty Pollards company B-1RD has developed the Vineyard Falcon Crop Protection Program which uses trained falcons. The falcons don't hunt down and kill starlings – their very presence is enough to frighten them off.

With an average wingspan of 3 ½ feet and a weight of between 1 – 2 lbs the falcons are relatively slow when it comes to soaring and gliding but they come into their own when they dive as they can reach speeds of up to 200mph.

Unlike robins or quails that commonly hide in the bushes when they see a predator approaching, starlings behave much like a school of fish. When they are busy chomping on grapes and a falcon comes into view, they quickly flock together and fly as high as possible to avoid being picked apart by the predator's razor-sharp talons. On the other hand, if the starlings arrive at a vineyard and see the immediate threat of a falcon patrolling the vineyard, they will simply fly away to find another place to snack.

Since the Peregrine falcon was only recently removed from the endangered species list in the United States, Pollard uses two types of foreign species, the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) and the Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus)--both of which can be legally bred in the United States.

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