Birds Can Wreck Havoc at Harvest
The vineyard landscape at harvest has changed dramatically the past few years with the widespread
use of over-the-row and side netting to stave off voracious birds, especially starlings. Although effective,
the nets are a pain to put on, take off, and store. Several other tactics have been used to deter
birds, from foraging grapes. Noisy gas guns, high-frequency devices, stereo systems played at top
decibels, and diversionary food such as watermelons have been employed. But the best solution may
turn out to also be a bird.
History tells us that Eugene Schieffelin released several pairs of European starlings in New York City’s
Central Park in 1890. The birds thrived in the United States and today they fly in large flocks with an
estimated total population of over 140 million. They love to feast on ripe grapes and a flock can literally
wipe out a vineyard in a day.
Raptors such as falcons can be brought into vineyards by trainers to deter other birds. Currently,
falcons are used primarily for airport protection. According to a recent article in www.sfgate.com, E.
& J. Gallo Winery has used falcons to protect its grapes for several years. Huntington Winery (which
displays a falcon on its label) brought in three falcons every day for three weeks this vintage. They
patrolled Bill Leigon’s vineyard in Healdsburg and successfully deterred any birds looking to feast
there. The cost was $12,000. I can vouch for the falcon’s abilities, for my wife loves to put out food in
our yard for doves, blue jays, and other small birds. A few year’s ago, a wild falcon (or hawk, I am not
sure), started swooping by twice a day and has picked off quite a few birds while they are dining. The
raptors are magnificent hunters.