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Policy: Bracing for a Blow
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Interview: Bye-bye, Starlings
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The 17-step solution; monkey love; get a goat, save a turtle.

Ewan Burns

Interview
Bye-bye, Starlings
A falconer offers vintners benign pest control.

Tom Savory’s falcons can clear a vineyard of grape-stealing European starlings faster than you can say “nonnative species run amok.” They’re also a greener and simpler solution than conventional methods like firing loud propane cannons  or spraying chemical repellents. During the grape harvest, Savory, a master falconer and owner of Avian Abatement Technologies, patrols thousands of acres in California and Oregon with three other falconers and 15 birds.

How did you get started with falconry?
In 1964, when I was just out of high school, I saw some kids trapping kestrels. I convinced them to let loose all but one. Then I took them to the library and checked out books on caring for falcons. After a month they lost interest, so I ended up keeping and training it. I let it go a few weeks later when I joined the Army. Then, in 1973, California began issuing permits for handling falcons. I took the test and got my license.

How did it become a career?
In 1997 I was asked to work on a vineyard where the owner had been using 15 men with shotguns to clear the fields of starlings. It seemed to me it was only a matter of time before someone got shot accidentally. Using falcons was a safer alternative.

How do falcons get rid of starlings?
I take one out of his cage and remove his hood (they wear hoods when they’re in the back of my truck to keep them calm). Then I hold him on the end of my fist for a moment. If he sees a dragon—that’s what we call a flock of starlings because when they’re on the move, stretching and contracting, they look like a Chinese dragon—he’ll take off and drive it out of the vineyard. One falcon can get rid of a thousand starlings in less than a minute.

Don’t the starlings come back?
That’s why we’re in the fields every day throughout the harvest. We usually arrive at 7 a.m. and stay until dark, flying our falcons whenever we see dragons. If you do this consistently, eventually the starlings don’t want to come into the area at all.

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