Duncan Family Farms is using an innovative method for bird abatement at their Goodyear, AZ, farm: falconry. It collaborates with Falcon Force, a firm that uses trained falcons to intimidate and scare off nuisance birds such as the horned larks and pigeons that frequent the area.
Duncan Family Farms grows organic baby lettuces and greens, kales, beets, chards, and herbs on more than 8,000 acres.
For nearly all vegetable growers, small birds can be a problem — they not only eat seeds after they’ve been planted, but can also shed feathers or defecate in the fields, triggering additional food safety measures. Previously, Duncan Family Farms would have personnel walk the fields with shakers or slings to scare birds away, but the birds get accustomed to the noise and people quickly, becoming progressively harder to chase off.
The grower wasn’t interested in using traditional approaches such as flares, firecrackers, or Mylar. The Duncan team views these as harmful to the environment and having the potential to leave debris in the fields, and causing product losses. These methods are also not effective long-term as birds will get used to them in about 48 hours.
Falcon Force uses the natural predator/prey relationship to deter the nuisance birds long-term — their main goal is to chase the nuisance birds away and not kill them. Once a horned lark sees one of its natural predators flying and swooping nearby, it’s going to immediately find a safer place to forage for food. An additional benefit of the trained falcons flying in the fields is that native predator birds will also leave the area to find new hunting grounds, meaning they are less likely to kill a prey bird in the field and cause a food safety issue or product loss.
“It’s pretty amazing to see the results — we can actually watch the nuisance birds leave the area and not come back,” said Jeremy Vanderzyl, Technical Services Manager at Duncan Family Farms. “A single falcon can cover a large area effectively and efficiently and allows us to avoid putting our personnel in uncomfortable or potentially unsafe conditions.”
Falcon Force was at Duncan Family Farms in Goodyear through the end of April, and Duncan has plans to continue the relationship at other growing locations with different bird abatement challenges such as large migratory birds like ducks and geese.