THREE days a week, a pair of hawks named Mowgli and Melvin are stationed by the edge of an artificial pond at the Water Garden, an office park in Santa Monica, Calif.
The birds, known as Harris’s hawks, are majestic creatures with white-tipped tails and neon orange talons. They may appear to be taking it easy as they rest on their perches. But they’re actually on the job, making sure that the pond and its environs remain free from the hundreds of sea gulls, pigeons and crows that would otherwise leave behind droppings and bacteria.
“Before I started working here, they had an issue with sea gulls actually living here,” said Nricco Iseppi, a master falconer and independent contractor for Airstrike Bird Control, a bird abatement business near San Luis Obispo, Calif. “They’d be on top of the roof, and, come lunchtime, they’d be trolling around the tables trying to steal food. So the first thing I did was, I set the hawks on them.”
After four months of the hawks’ intimidation tactics — swooping down and scaring the gulls out of the water, for example, or simply flying in their vicinity — all signs of the other fowl disappeared. Well, almost. A family of coots remains, though Mr. Iseppi stressed that he allows them to stay.
“They have a license,” he joked.
At a time when many business solutions seem to come in the form of apps or other software, Airstrike Bird Control is promoting the ancient sport of falconry to potential customers.
Known as the “sport of kings,” falconry is thought to date back to 2,000 B.C. In medieval Europe, falcons were popular with hunters and served as a status symbol among the aristocracy.
Now, a falcon that once might have graced a king’s wrist could be helping a blueberry grower ward off hungry starlings, or the owner of a landfill contend with a siege of sea gulls.
For each Airstrike Bird Control assignment, a master falconer is deployed to scare away the problem birds by using either hawks or falcons. Hawks are better for smaller spaces; falcons, which fly at a higher altitude, are more suitable for large areas, like vineyards.
On a recent morning at the Water Garden, with no sea gulls or crows in sight, Mowgli was tethered to his perch by a leash attached to a leather anklet, and wearing a hood to limit his vision.
To demonstrate how the process works, Mr. Iseppi untethered Mowgli and removed his hood. The bird immediately took to the air and landed on a branch of a nearby tree. (If an unwanted bird had been there, the browbeating would have begun.) A few minutes later, Mr. Iseppi blew a sharp, short note on a whistle, and Mowgli flew back to Mr. Iseppi’s gloved arm.
When the hawks are actually pursuing birds, they can become “pushy,” Mr. Iseppi said. Once in a while a bird can accidentally die, even though the hawks are not meant to kill as part of the program, he said.
“The objective of the program is what we call hazing,” said Brad Felger, co-owner of Airstrike Bird Control. “You’re intimidating them, you’re scaring them, so they don’t want to be there.”
“Attitudes have changed a lot,” he said; during peak season he has as many as 20 jobs along the West Coast, from San Diego to Seattle. He would not disclose what the company charges its clients but said the falconers received hundreds of dollars a day for their services. “Before it was me saying, ‘Yeah, it works.’ And they’re saying, ‘Really?’ They were looking at me like I was trying to sell them a used car or something,” he adds.
THE use of falconry is an alternative to products like noise cannons and netting systems, as well as repellents applied to ledges that make it uncomfortable for birds to land.
Chris Siems, the California sales manager for Wilson Orchard and Vineyard Supply, which sells netting and other bird deterrents, said that using falcons or hawks “is not a 24-7 solution, because you can only keep birds in the air for so many hours a day.”
“It’s effective against some species of birds, such as starlings, which disperse at the sight of a circling falcon,” he said. “But others, like finches, simply burrow deeper into the vine canopy and keep eating.”
Mr. Felger has been a master falconer since 1982. He was inspired to form his company in 2003, when the California Department of Fish and Game began issuing permits for licensed falconers to use certain raptors as a way to control birds.
The location of Mr. Felger’s company, in the wine-rich swath of Central California, helped his business take off, as word of his service began spreading among wineries. In recent years, jobs like those at the Water Garden have emerged as interest in sustainable approaches to bird control has increased.
“The more you become informed about what it is, and how it works, it makes ethical sense,” said Mr. Iseppi, who also has his own bird abatement business. He was sitting cross-legged on the the Water Garden’s grass a few feet from Mowgli and Melvin, who would go home with him to Malibu when the workday was done. (Mowgli is named for a “Jungle Book” character.)
Not that everyone immediately understands what he and his birds are doing.
“There was a woman who thought I was looking after a powerful C.E.O.’s status symbols, he said, smiling. “She thought I was a hawk baby sitter.”
Pigeon Patrol Products & Services is the leading manufacturer and distributor of bird deterrent (control) products in Canada. Pigeon Patrol products have solved pest bird problems in industrial, commercial, and residential settings since 2000, by using safe and humane bird deterrents with only bird and animal friendly solutions. At Pigeon Patrol, we manufacture and offer a variety of bird deterrents, ranging from Ultra-flex Bird Spikes with UV protection, Bird Netting, 4-S Bird Gel and the best Ultrasonic and audible sound devices on the market today.
Voted Best Canadian wholesaler for Bird Deterrent products ten years in a row.
Contact us at 1- 877– 4– NO-BIRD, (604) 585-9279 or visit our website at www.pigeonpatrol.ca
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