Thursday, December 24, 2009

Birds, not scared of birds

Some birds are just not too scared of falcons. I encountered some yesterday that had no fear of my white, male gyrfalcon, Skula. Quite the contrary, they seemed to enjoy being around him. It might have been a case of "keeping your enemies closer". While flying Skula at some pheasants in south Ada County, a blizzard of small passerines, horned larks I think, joined Skula in the sky. They seemed a little different, like maybe longspurs or something. I could not tell for sure. It was the weirdest thing. Big white falcon up there in a cold, clear blue sky with his swarm of little bird friends all around him. He quickly forgot about my efforts to flush pheasants from the weedy fence line and began to fly higher and higher with his tiny escorts.

At home, he acts like he wants to play with the sparrows that come in to my yard, turning his head upside down at their antics on the feeders. He seemed to be play- chasing these little migrants, just arrived on the frigid northwest wind. They were not bunched up in front of him like Starlings would be. They were all around him. A little like a shark swimming with remoras and other small fishes that follow the predator for bits of food and protection from other threats.

Of course, while this was happening, way up and away from me now, a few pheasants took the opportunity to flush and fly for a nearby canal bed. Skula saw this just as they reached cover and he landed on the dike after a pretty, twisting, thousand foot stoop. I called him back across the field to his lure and guess who followed him right back to me. That's right, all those little birds.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The early bird might get the bird.

No birds visible in the yard can mean only one thing. A hawk is nearby. My vision through the foggy,morning kitchen window was none too clear. It was barely light enough to see that my pigeons, out in the loft, were hiding in their boxes as well.

In the almost thirty years I have lived in this house there have been many such morning visions. Sometimes it has been great-horned owls, trapped in the coop after going in after a homer in the dark. Once inside they seem to forget why they went in, or they make a quick, head eating kill and settle in amongst the survivors for the rest of the night, My dog usually wakes me up with excited barking that lasts until I stumble outside in my robe and dip net. It is entertaining to wake my wife up with a beak popping, yellow-eyed Bubo and get her to drive us out into the hinterlands to release the marauder. We keep waiting for the sheriff to pull us over and see the reaction.

This morning it was a young female coopers hawk, trying to hide from me in the Elm. After dumping some grain into the feed pans I coerced a few pigeons to fly. They blasted out of the door and headed for the lightening sky. These birds have evaded numerous attacks by my falcons and know how to avoid capture. That little rocket was on their tails in a flash and stayed right with them, up a hundred feet, out over the canal, before giving up and sailing back to the elm. I went back inside and saw that she had flown to the top of the dovecote right away, where she stayed for an hour, dancing around on top of the wire, trying to figure out how to get in. It was another hour before the horde of English sparrows decided it was safe enough to come in and feed.

I may get up before light tomorrow and try to trap that little speedster. I love getting those accipiters in hand to get a really good look at their maniacal, yellow/orange eyes and their spidery, lethal toes and talons.

Bird watching in Boise is a blast, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Web Site

My new Falconry Solutions web site, for now, until godaddy publishes my domain,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Legal considerations

Not wanting to be in violation of any laws concerning migratory birds, on the state or federal level, I am trying to determine just what types of permits I may need to do falconry pest bird control in Idaho. Just being a bonafide Master falconer that has a hunting license appears to be the most important. Got that.
No problem where non-protected species are concerned, i.e. pigeons, starling and house sparrows are fair game anytime. If the targets are legal game species, then all hunting regulations would apply, with specific seasons, limits and access.
For any migratory bird that is not a game species,or even ones that are game that is out of season, it appears that if depredation can be determined and verified by a private or public source/concern then a Federal Bird Abatement permit for Falconry(MBTA 50 CFR 21.27) would be required. These appear to be available to Master class Falconers for a $100 annual fee.
Fruit eaters like Robins and Waxwings, are known to be injurous to grape crops. It appears to me that I could patrol a vineyard with a captive bred hawk such as a Goshawk, Harris's Hawk or Aplamado Falcon, in pursuit of Valley Quail, which are a legal game bird and also occur commonly in vineyards, with a more innocuous presence.. Robins, etc. would most certainly scatter at the presence of the raptor, even if it was not in pursuit of them directly.
I just learned of a company, involved in bird control at oil refineries for over ten years, suddenly being forced to stop activities due to lack of proper permits of some sort. This was in Montana. Each state seems to be having to sort out it's own regulations on this subject now that the Feds have relaxed regs nationwide. Idaho seems to be in need of some direction in this area. It is a totally new field for a state that once told it's only falconer, the late, great Morley Nelson that he could go ahead and wing some crows and magpies with his air rifle to train his falcons to catch them. No one seemed to mind at the time.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


As much I think I may know about how certain birds impact crops and winegrape crops in particular, nothing beats getting out right after the harvest season to find out directly from the growers what this particular season was like.

Since I am serious about getting into the bird control business around my home town of Boise, it was time to get out there and talk to people. Yesterday morning, after chasing some jackrabbits around with my red-tailed hawk, Morrigan south of Kuna Cave, I thought about Indian Creek Winery west of Kuna. I had been by there before many times; a lovely part of the valley. It is by no accident that vineyards are best located in the prettiest countryside places.

On my first pass, I took notice of the sturdy, well established vines along McDermott Road. The light-colored, loamy soil was weed free and loose looking. One wind machine stood out in the middle of the field for frost protection in the spring. Humm, a nice hawk perch I thought, as long as it was not spinning.

I don't know why I am always a little nervous about dropping in on busy people cold. (it was cold out!) Finally, I summoned my nerve and pulled into their winery parking lot, where I immediatly encountered Bill Stowe, winemaker and owner. Something about having a big hawk on your fist breaks the ice with people you have never met. He stopped the fork lift he was busy with and greeted me warmly. Bill's daughter Tammy joined us for a quick, teeth chattering chat about the critters around their lovely place.

Morrigan might have been interested in some of the rabbits and squirrels around the winery, but it was the flying, grape eaters that move in during ripening time that I was interested in finding out about. Apparantly the beloved (?) robin is the main culprit. Robins react differently to raptors than big flocking species like starlings. Whereas a peregrine falcon may force a big flock of starlings out of a big vineyard very quickly, robins will merely hide in the foliage until the threat is gone. Then they resume gobbling fruit. An ambushing, cover- loving hawk, like a Coopers hawk, is the most effective on the thrush family. They incite total fear in birds trying to be sneaky in the vines.

I recently read about an operation in Santiago, Chile's extensive vineyards using Aplamado Falcons, which are more hawk-like than Peregrines, and the SouthAmerican version of the Cooper's Hawk, the Bi-colored hawk. The Aplamado has a most cooperative and friendly manner with man, much like the Harris' Hawk.
The project falconers primary target was the Austral Thrush, Chile's version of our Robin.
Robin's are a protected(and beloved bird, right?) species. Aww, another hitch.

The Stowes had apparently just invested in bird netting, which was effective, yet a hassle to put up and take down. Their 15 or so acres would require a different approach, with different raptors, than say a couple of hundred acres above the Snake River.

They invited me back to visit again on Father's Day. Probably will have a new eyass falcon in training by then that will benefit from some crowd exposure. Hope Cloverdale Nursery will give me Father's Day off. Its still a little busy in mid- June. I might even have to consider pulling an eyass Coopers this summer too. They are pretty common, yet secretive nesters in the mountains close to Boise. There may even be some urban nesting Coopers now like there are in Arizona and elsewhere. I saw an adult female packing a bird into a grove of trees in Caldwell last June. Coopers Hawks are not overly popular with falconers due to some behavioral challenges. When you manage to develop a good one, they are awesome. They are above the abilitylevel of most falconers of little experience.

I bid Bill and Tammy adieu and put Morrigan back in the SUV. She wasn't real happy about getting in. I am sure she was thinking "Why aren't we going to hunt this place, Dad?" "It looks good !"

So much more research to be done. So many more places to visit. I love it. Merry Christmas(or whatever you observe) and a HNY to all.