Welcome to the WineBlog of RedbankJames – Falcons

No, not the Ford ones made of metal, but the New Zealand native falcon, karearea, which could prove to be a huge asset for vineyards in the battle against the birds.

Over two years ago, in Marlborough, a project was started to try and bring the falcon back in large numbers to alleviate some of the damage caused by pest birds. Apparently, the NZ falcon used to be seen in large numbers in the area, but development, man, and pests, have now made the karearea more scarce than the kiwi. Dr Nick Fox, a director of International Wildlife Consultants (UK) established the Falcons for Grapes scheme with his own money, funding from the Sustainable Farming Fund, and NZ Winegrowers.

But according to an article in the latest Winegrower magazine, funding is about to cease and the project is under threat. Which is a damn shame, because it has been steadily growing in success. As the falcon numbers increase – and they have done – the population of small birds in the vineyards decreases.

Winegrower reports: “The falcon is a ferocious hunter. It is incredibly agile and though small in stature (roughly the size of a pigeon) it appears to strike fear into the average small bird…Just having a falcon in a vineyard is enough to effectively diminish pest bird numbers.”

In California  at the French Camp Vineyard, after one year of using a falconer, the owners have sold all their netting equipment (a huge saving – in a 11hectare vineyard in NZ the nets alone cost around $50,000, plus the labour for putting them on and then removing them, to say nothing of trying to keep them on during the ferocious Wairarapa winds).

Apparently falconry is not allowed in NZ, but Falcons for Grapes brings the falcons into the vineyard, encourages mating and protects the young, and places locators on the birds. At Chaytor’s Estate in Marshlands, manager Rod Moffat said the difference made by just two falcon chicks in the vineyard was “Incredible..The area where the two chicks are used to have significant bird damage. Pest birds used to strip the vines. But this year we had none.”

We don’t see falcons in the Wairarapa, (I can’t get close enough for a photo but I do have some splendid feathers) at least not to my knowledge, but we do have the beautiful, majestic, soaring hawks, which cruise over the vines spotting birds entrapped and swooping down to kill and eat them. But the hawks are not enough to deter the massive flocks of starlings – we need falcons for that.

So if you’re interested in finding out more about falcons, go to www.falconsforgrapes.org or email Dr Nick Fox at office@falcons.co.uk. I’m keen to start a “sponsor a falcon family” or something – anything to ensure this valuable research continues.

Anything to reduce the number of times I have to go out with this:

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