Jacob chases a bird that was feasting on blueberries.
On a farm, the sound of birds singing isn't always a pleasant reminder of nature. It can also be the sound of an incoming pest, one that attacks crops at peak ripeness, damaging or decimating fruits before they can be harvested. Instead of turning to chemical poisons, some organic farmers are turning to birds' natural predators for help, enlisting falcons to patrol the fields. I recently met a falconer and a couple of his falcons and learned a little bit about what their work day on the farm looks like.
After learning about the cherry packing process at Rainier Fruit Company, I visited a few of their organic blueberry fields and met Raul, their resident falconer. He was accompanied by two falcons, Jacob — there is apparently a whole group of Twilight-inspired names in their aviary! — and Troy. There are currently about 15 falcons living in the aviary at Rainier, and they work during nearly all the daylight hours while the fruit is ripe, from as early as 5:30 AM to when the sun sets, with a midday break when the heat is at its peak.
When patrolling the fields, Raul releases a falcon, then walks through the rows to flush out birds. He demonstrated the process with Jacob, the smaller of the two falcons, who chased a small bird and caught it, then hid in a blueberry bush to eat it. Raul doesn't always allow the falcons to eat the birds once they have caught them, as they tend to lose interest in the treats he uses to train them. In addition to treats, Raul uses a whistle to call the falcons back, and attaches a small GPS transmitter to the birds before they take off, to make sure he doesn't lose them.
If you ever have the chance to see falconry in action, on a farm or elsewhere, go for it! The birds are beautiful, powerful, and by far the coolest farm workers I've ever met.
(Information for this post was gathered during a press trip sponsored by Rainier Fruit Company and Whole Foods Market. All views and opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author.)
Related: It's True! Organic Fruits and Vegetables Taste Better
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)