Oregon blueberry growers are looking to winged guardians to protect their crop from thieving birds.
Using trained falcons to keep starlings at bay is a growing trend in the Willamette Valley production area, according to a news release.
But the practice isn't new.
For more than a decade, a small number of California winegrape growers have been successfully using the technique.
Verne Gingerich, owner of Gingerich Farms, a Canby, Ore., blueberry operation, met Getty Pollard and his trained falcons about 10 years ago.
Pollard runs the Oregon-based company, B-1RD.
Pollard trains his falcons to harass and chase the starlings rather than hunt them.
He deploys the birds for several hours a day and for several weeks to create a predatory presence so intense that the starlings don't even want to try to return to the fields.
"We don’t even want starlings looking at the blueberry fields let alone flying over them," he said in the release.
The falcons seem to work where more traditional tools, such as propane cannons, mylar tape and balloons fail.
“Starlings are actually intelligent,” Pollard said in the release. “They basically look at any of those other techniques and realize it’s not trying to kill them, it’s not chasing them, it hasn’t caught them, therefore they will ignore it just like they ignore a loud car driving by.”
Not only do starlings damage the crop and reduce yields by their feeding, but they also post a food safety threat their their droppings.