In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Athena (left) and Getty Pollard work together to protect the harvest in the Gallo Sonoma vineyards.
Integrated Pest Management
There are many ways to solve a problem in the garden, just like there are in life. It's usually best to begin with the least intrusive solution, then work your way up until the problem has been solved. That is the theory behind Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Sometimes the least-toxic method of solving a problem also is the most effective.
Outwitting Raiding Starlings
The owners of Gallo Vineyards in Sonoma had a serious -- and expensive -- problem with migrating starlings. Flocks of birds were coming into the vineyards and eating the grapes just as the fruit was turning ripe. A hungry flock of 2,000 starlings can do serious damage to a harvest in just a matter of hours.
The vineyard managers at Gallo had tried covering the vines with netting, which is very expensive when you consider that hundreds of acres needed to be protected from the voracious birds. Netting was extremely labor intensive and also very hard on the vines when it came time to remove it.
Starlings are wily birds, and once they tasted the sweet fruit they were determined to do some harvesting of their own, no matter how many nets had been laid out in defense.
After trying -- and failing at -- various other methods of control, including flash tape and scare tactics, the vineyard managers decided to call in the big guns.
Falcons to the Rescue
Getty Pollard is the owner of a company called B-1RD. As the name implies, living B-1 bombers in the form of trained falcons patrol the hillside vineyards from dawn to dusk, with only a 3-hour break midday. The Henry's Garden crew was lucky enough to be invited to witness this amazing spectacle firsthand.
Getty stands guard on a hilltop in the dusty vineyards while his magnificent falcons swoop and soar over the rows of vines. If they fly out of view he calls them back in order to keep them safe from their natural predator, the golden eagle. A quick flip of a hand-held lure attracts their attention immediately, and the sleek Saker falcons dive at amazing speeds to land at Getty's feet for a reward. He calls them "Meat-Seeking Missiles."
Getty told me that his birds are too well fed to actually hunt and kill the starlings, but having a falcon flying through the vineyard is like having a shark in the bathtub. It keeps out unwanted bathers.
Getty Pollard's relationship with his birds was incredible to witness. He keeps several birds on a carpeted perch in the back of his truck, rotating them after 30 to 45 minutes in the air. Only one bird is on patrol at any given time. After its tour of duty is complete, each falcon enjoys a mist bath from the safety and comfort of Getty's heavily gloved arm. The birds fluttered and fluffed and obviously loved the feeling of cool water on their feathers.
So that we could get the proper respect for their flying skills, Getty put a bird named Oscar through his paces. After releasing Oscar, who quickly flew from view, Getty started to swing a feathered lure. Oscar appeared almost immediately, and as Getty swung the lure in a tight figure 8, Oscar was right behind it. He must have been doing 150 miles per hour! He threaded in and out of the camera crew as if we weren't there. As soon as Oscar touched the lure, Getty landed him and gave him a treat. The sight of that falcon put fear in my heart; I can imagine what it would do to a starling!
My congratulations and kudos go to the management of Gallo Vineyards for practicing Integrated Pest Management. It's easy to rely on technology for answers when often the best solution is flying right in front of your eyes.
Getty Pollard can be reached though his Web site: http://www.b-1rd.com. For more information on the Gallo Sonoma Vineyards, visit http://www.gallosonoma.com.
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