Willamette Valley blueberry producers near Portland, Ore., are finding that a unique and natural way to control starlings with bigger birds works for them.
Falcons are becoming popular with producers like Verne Gingerich and Eric Pond, both with large blueberry farms near residential acres where use of nets is too expensive and firing propane canons to scare birds frightens neighbors as well as starlings.
Falconer Getty Pollard of Lostine, Ore., came up with the idea after success in using falcons to fight off starlings in California vineyards, and has become the first one to work with the California Fish and Game Department to obtain a permit authorizing falcons as an agricultural bird pest management technology.
His company, B-1RD (the standard airline designation to report birds along airways), began with an approach to dairymen to use falcons in preventing depredations by birds in feed.
"They didn't really commit, so I looked for a more compelling clientele – one what was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to starlings. I discovered that the blueberry farmers were a fit."
Gingerich and Pond agreed, and today continue to use Pollard's falcons as a successful tool against starlings. A third farmer has also contracted for his services keeping starlings out of the blueberries. No other method, including netting, can come close to what we can do with falcons."
The presence of a falcon soaring over a blueberry planting is so frightening to starlings that they soon learn to avoid that vineyard, explains Pollard.
"Other scare methods may work for a short period of time, and they may be best to use on 20 acres or less. For large scale blueberry acreages, falcons do a much better job."
Dealing with hundreds of thousands of starlings that descend on a blueberry farm, the flock is effectively scared away using just one falcon flying over the vineyard, he says.
"We are capitalizing on a predator-prey relationship," Pollard adds.
Oregon blueberry producers in the midst of record production areas are constantly concerned with starling losses not only directly to the crop, but in the form of bird dropping that an contaminate berries with E.Coli or salmonella bacteria.
Some producers are banning together to contract for falcon services, since starlings driven from one farm might quickly take up residence at a neighboring property where the falcons aren't active.
For producers like Gingerich and Pond, the falcons have delivered their promise.
"With the falcons, it's a clean and easy way to go," says Pond, who grows blueberries near Jefferson, Ore. "It fits our sustainability program, too."
Gingerich, a Canby, Ore., blueberry farmer, his location in a heavily populated are made use of the falcons a choice that offered non-intrusive pest control. "If we use shotguns or cannons, they (neighbors) see that as intrusive," he explains.
The unique twist to his falcons to fight starlings, says Pollard, "is that this type of bird control method works immediately and can have an effective range of up to 1,000 acres."
For more on this story, see the cover story on the November issue of Western Farmer-Stockman.