Real Predators in the Vineyard

It happens every year like clockwork. Veraison begins and you realize nature’s time table affects more than just your growing season. If your vines are in rich riparian habitat and under or near high voltage power lines, then you are familiar with the unwanted little birds and starlings arriving to make themselves at home from now through harvest. You’ve probably invested heavily in predator calls, propane cannons, lasers, mylar balloons, kites, and netting your rarest varietals. Perhaps it worked at first. Then think about how many times you’ve been working in the vineyard and realized you’ve blocked out that annoying raptor squawk box, and you hardly find your eye caught by the flash of giant eye balloons or raptor kites. Is it any wonder pest birds who have sustained themselves and their offspring for generations on your crops are conditioned to know there is no real threat to stop them ruining your hard grown investment!

This is where introducing a real predator to the situation pays off for the grower. Flying falcons and hawks in the vineyard doesn’t replace other deterrents you’ve implemented– it reinforces all of those techniques and more, making your property unsafe feeding grounds. Every falcon flight conditions the pest birds, who in turn teach their offspring your vines are a no-go zone. Nature has hard wired them to react fearfully to the flying raptor every time and without exception.

As falconry service for one of the foremost certified sustainable wineries in California, Aero-Falconry continues to prove that falconry is the most effective tool against loss in the grower’s arsenal. Jana Barkley, owner and master falconer, says work starts when the grower notices small groups of starlings “scouting” the berries around veraison.  “The grower calls us in and our falconers work sunrise to sunset, actually live in a trailer onsite or near the vineyard,” Barkley says. “We use a combination of tools: noisemaking, running a well-trained dog through the vines to roust hiding birds, and then fly the falcon or hawk.” She notes that the pest bird activity spikes as grapes become ripe and ready for harvest. Falconer and raptors are very much a part of the vineyard team, working hard to get grapes to harvest. Once all fruit is in, the falconry crew pack up for home and some very well-earned R&R.

As more growers reach for certified sustainable status, implementing abatement falconry becomes a significant, natural solution with many perks for vineyard owners. Beyond improving loss levels using falconry, some owners have enjoyed the perks of positive public interest. Tasting room visitors are often fascinated to learn falcons protected the grapes grown for the wine they are sampling. Some vineyards bring falcon and falconer to wine club visits, happily demonstrating their sustainable practices and increasing good will and wine sales.

How do you know if falconry abatement is a good fit for your vineyard? Barkley says, “Call us! Regardless of the size of your property, falconry works, and we are always happy to visit your site for a consultation.”  She also promises to bring a bird. She adds, “They are, after all, the hardest working members of the abatement team.”

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