Believe it or not, birds are one of the biggest threats to sweet cherries during the harvest season. They love cherries just as much as we do and like to frequent orchards right before harvest to snack on ripe, sweet cherries. I can’t say I blame them as I too, love red and Rainier cherries, but the problem with these pesky cherry-eating birds is that they don’t eat the entire cherry…they peck a hole or two in several and can ruin an entire bunch of great tasting cherries in no time at all.
Because of this fact, bird control must be part of every cherry grower’s plan. At Stemilt, we have a few creative and natural approaches that we deploy to politely ask birds to leave the orchard and find a new treat to snack on. In this post, I’ll share one of those natural approaches – known as falconry – and how it helps protect sweet cherries from pest birds.
Meet Chase, a master falconer that has frequented Stemilt’s orchards all summer long to help us protect orchards from cherry-pecking birds. Chase has been in commercial falconry for 15 years and absolutely loves his job.
Day after day during the summer, he brings his birds to our cherry orchards to set up a protection zone in order to abate birds. Falcons, like GG (pictured) are predators of pest birds and their simple presence flying in and around the orchard during feeding times (morning and night) is enough to deter pest birds from snacking on cherries. In order to attract the falcon to continue flying the orchard space or to bring the bird back to him, Chase swings a large lure, often filled with small scraps of food, in quick motion.
This natural approach to bird control in cherry orchards is very effective, and a more than full-time job that requires a number of skills from both the falconer and his or her trained bird. Chase and other falconers must have an understanding of the weather, including wind and heat, in order to determine the best times to fly their birds. Cooler, windy days are favorites of falconers as it makes for ideal flying conditions for birds. They also have to know the orchard surroundings and the personality of each bird they work with to avoid losing a bird or other issues. Of course, caretaking of the birds is always the top priority of the falconer and a great deal of time is spent each day ensuring they are happy and healthy.
Aside from cherries, falconers are often used to naturally control birds in berry fields (like blueberries), and also for certain types of apples.