Grapes Going to the Birds?


While bird lovers might find the image of flocks of small winged starlings soaring above and alighting atop vineyards enchanting, this sight is a nightmare for grape growers and other fruit producers. Starlings are particularly upsetting, since they are quick and efficient when it comes to effectively decreasing crop yields with their greedy beaks.

Traditional methods of battling the birds involve everything from expensive over-crop netting to installed loudspeakers intended to startle the birds away. Some growers patrol their crops with firearms in hand, ready to scare the birds as soon as they approach, but that kind of vigilance isnt cost-effective, convenient or particularly eco-friendly.

Growers battling Starlings are always looking for better methods, and crop managers in New Zealand, California and Oregon might have found an answer. In 2004, Gallo contracted with Getty Pollards B-1RD, Inc., out of Park City, Utah, to solve their starling problem.

Pollard offers trained falcons to patrol vineyards from the time fruit appears on the vine up until harvest. Pollards falcons arent there to attack the fruit-hungry pests, just to keep them away from the crop. Success at Gallo paid off, and Pollards bird tactics have been implemented in a number of fruit-growing areas as a sustainable and eco-friendly method of handling the bird pest problem.

In Marlborough, New Zealand, a project called Falcons for Grapes (www.falconsforgrapes.org) has been organized which strives to encourage Pollards system to develop naturally. Young falcons have been positioned in nests within vineyards, in hopes that their presence will keep the pest birds at bay. In the future, the program hopes that the falcons will breed, creating a self-propagating control. This project was devised by a bird of prey expert named Dr. Nick Fox and is being managed by Colin Wynn with backing from New Zealand Winegrowers.

This move toward sustainable and eco-friendly pest control methods is heartening!

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