Angry Birds: Raptors and The Willamette Valley
I was reading the New York Times magazine last Sunday (yes I am a Luddite, I get it delivered) and an article caught my eye. It was called “Angry Birds: The Art of Ancient Falconry at the Jersey Shore”. 1
Why? First, both John & I were raised in Jersey (no I don’t pump gas here in OR or in NJ!), attended college (John went to Seton Hall and I went to Rutgers) and raised our kids there. Second, we have a house at the Jersey Shore; third, I am so curious about the use of raptors as a natural pest control method.
NJ and Seagulls
The article discusses how Erik Swanson from Lodi, NJ keeps birds of prey (falcons, hawks and an owl) at his home and “rents” them out to dispel nuisance birds at shopping malls, airports and golf courses and, more recently, seagulls at the Jersey shore. He keeps them well fed so the pesky birds are not harmed but instead chased away to other less populated areas. Ocean City, NJ was the first town to hire him in 2019 to keep seagulls away from the boardwalk. They became so aggressive that they would nab french fries, chips or even a slice of pizza from the hands of adults and children strolling or sitting on the beach!
The First Falconers
The history of falconry goes back at least 4000 years; petroglyphs in Iran show horsemen with birds on their arms. Europeans have been using birds for hunting since the 13th century, mostly as sport for gentleman landowners. The British military first used raptors to deter nuisance birds in the 1940’s at an air base in Scotland.
In the US, falconry has only been popular for the past 100 years for conservation purposes and hobbyists. Been to a Renaissance Fair? You likely had the opportunity to see a raptor demonstration as I did in Tuxedo, New York when my kids were young. In 2007 the federal government legalized the use of raptors for commercial abatement and raptor hobbyists were able to turn their hobbies into a vocation.
The Wine Country Connection?
Raptors are encouraged to nest at vineyards (and farms) to chase away and feed on rodents and small birds who love to eat fruit (grapes, blueberries) as they ripen. In fact, one of our favorite wineries, Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg, OR, offers a Birds of Prey demonstration every year at their tasting room site. I recently wrote an essay on regenerative farming and the use of organic and biodynamic practices at Oregon vineyards. These low intervention and environmentally sustainable practices forbid the use of herbicides, pesticides and any type of poison to rid the vineyard of pests including weeds, mold, rodents, insects. Raptors can do the job and allow the vineyards to maintain their certifications and not reduce grape yield from hungry critters. Sounds like a win-win.
Another interesting aspect to life in the Willamette Valley, raptors can be seen all over the landscape soaring above vineyards looking for dinner. We can enjoy their flights from the many tasting rooms in the hillsides overlooking estate vineyards: J Christopher, Compris, Furioso, Keeler, Brooks, Domaine Drouhin, Winderlea, Monksgate and more. Come for a tour and bird watch (including the plentiful hummingbirds here) while enjoying wines and taking in the scenery, and, if you are lucky, a glimpse of Mount Hood, Mount St Helens, Mount Adams or Jefferson. Aaahh, I am relaxing just thinking about it.
Come and see for yourself!
1 Photo source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/23/magazine/falcons-hawks-jersey-shore.html