Guest Blog from Viticulturist, Kelsey Ryan: Falconry

IMG_4959As soon as wine grapes begin to develop color and accumulate sugar (veraison), the grape berries become highly attractive to native and migrating birds, including finches and European Starlings. Several techniques can be used to deter birds from damaging the crop. Bird netting is effective but usually can’t entirely exclude birds from accessing the crop. It’s also expensive, timely to apply and even worse to remove. Pest birds quite often become acclimated to noisemakers and visual deterrents. Falconry is another option sometimes used by wine grape growers. We have had success with a falconry-based program for bird abatement at our Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard for the past two years and are currently exploring the effectiveness of its use at Laetitia.

Falconry can be defined as the act of taking wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained bird of prey. Becoming a Master Falconer can take at least seven years, including a two-year apprenticeship. In a vineyard setting, trained falconers use predatory birds, usually falcons and hawks, to harass and scare birds that threaten to damage the crop. Throughout the period of veraison to harvest, there are no days off for a falconer. He/she will begin just before sunrise and conclude following sunset. Each individual raptor requires a significant amount of time for caring and training. A falconer will also utilize several different species of raptors, including Peregrine Falcons, Aplomado Falcons, American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, etc. Only one raptor will be flown at a time and it will patrol roughly 400+ acres with each flight.

While falconry is expensive, it can be effective with the use of a skilled falconer. In comparison to other methods of bird control, falconry is quiet and environmentally sound. This concept goesIMG_4954 hand in hand with our commitment to sustainable farming. We have substantially decreased our need and use of bird netting and we don’t require the use of obnoxious canons, which can be upsetting to neighbors. Falconry is described by some as an art, using natural instincts of predator–prey relationships to our advantage.

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