The time is coming soon when we will be visited by two of our favorite people for the rest of the growing season: our falconers, Tom and Randy. They arrive every year at veraison (when the grapes start to accumulate sugar and change color) and stay until we finish harvest. This is a big time commitment on their part and we appreciate what they do for us and the length of time they are away from their families. They are usually here for more than 6 weeks, protecting the vineyard twice a day each and every day, including weekends and holidays, from starlings.
Starlings are an invasive bird species from Europe that were introduced to North America. They can do a lot of damage to our winegrape crop in a short period of time. Starlings eat whole berries off the vine. Due to the volume of birds present, this can result in huge losses of crop.
This is where the falcons come into the picture. Tom and Randy have falcons that are trained to hunt and return to a lure. This is a simplified version of what really happens, but basically they put the birds up in the air, the falcons patrol the vineyard, and the starlings either leave because there are now birds of prey in the area or are chased away by the falcons. When this is done twice a day every day for a week or two, the starlings give up and go to someone else’s vineyard to eat grapes. Sorry neighbors.
I continue to be amazed each and every time I see these birds fly. They are fast. And I mean, like a bullet. They are loyal to their trainers. And they are smart! Their eyesight is unbelievably good. And for removing starlings from the vineyard, they are very effective and economical. The excitement I feel watching them fly is unexplainable. I find it fascinating that they do this job for us and it comes naturally. It’s what they do in the wild. They eat starlings! And the starlings know it so they just leave.
I hope you find this as interesting as I do. Feel free to ask questions if you have any. Just a note: Do not try this at home! (Like you could!) Falconry is highly regulated by the Department of Fish and Game.