Signs that your falconry service isn't fit for purpose
Monday 21st May 2018
Yes, that’s right. Falconry for pest control. If this in itself is surprising, don’t start here! Please have a look at our bird control services.
Lots of have-a-go heroes out there
Not all falconry services are alike. Just like any other service provision there is a grade of professional.
There are lots of falconry companies out there who are just ‘having a go’ because falconry has been their hobby and they’ve realised that they can make money from it.
There are lots of falconry companies out there who are or were pest controllers and they have bought a bird (a Harris hawk, let’s be honest) so that another contractor can’t muscle in on their work.
There are lots of falconry companies who undervalue their work, overpromise and overstate the effectiveness of visiting a site every once in a while.
Then there are companies like ours,· we have a dedicated falconry team,
- we have a cycle of birds being used according to their flying weight and condition of their feathers,
- we have different species of bird for different target pests and different topographies,
- we are dedicated to continued professional development and regularly exchange knowledge with other professionals around the world,
- We actually have pest control specific falconry qualifications! (rather important, don’t you think?)
It’s a bit different to ‘having a go.’
I’m almost off my soapbox, bear with me.
So many people have been put off by bad experiences.
The problem we face is that we come across so many potential customers who say that they’ve tried a falconry service and it’s not for them. They have had bad experiences in the past; birds going missing, birds ripping pigeons to shreds in front of school children (really), birds just lazing about somewhere and not coming down, even birds preferring to have a bath in puddles than go after the target species!
Honestly, sending your bird to have a bath while confused, and possibly aroused, seagulls watch it… is not what we call falconry.
It’s not about killing
A lot of people also think that killing pigeons with a falcon is the point of the whole exercise. Don’t be silly. If that were the point we could just have any old farm boy turn up with a pop-gun and do the same job (just ask our competitors, who charge very handsomely for such a service thank you very much).
The point is to harness the natural instinct of the pest birds. To viscerally repel them. You control the environment BEFORE you control the pest.
If you can create an environment that feels so hostile that the pest birds won’t want to hang around to be killed, have their children or one of their flock be killed, then they will actively avoid the site like the rough part of town where they just don’t go. Flight lines change. Pest behaviour changes. No death necessary.
It’s all about training the birds the right way
You see, the birds of prey or raptors have to be trained correctly, just the same as any service professional. Raptors are naturally inclined to kill. They have a very short brain stem that means that there is no thinking time between their instinctive reaction to launch themselves at tasty prey and actually doing it.
They are literally flying before they know it. They are killing before they know it. It’s all done on instincts and they think they have done a very good job. Bad birdie.
So, if it’s instincts you wish to influence, you have to train your birds FROM BIRTH. They have to be taught to associate their handler with food, not pest birds.
If you buy a bird from a falconer (as many pest control companies do) you are buying a hunting bird. This is not then trained out of killing. It is still an instinctive killer and it is not a pest control bird. Clear? This is why hobbyists who decide to be professional pest controllers are really approaching this from the wrong angle and will likely be selling you the wrong service without really knowing it.
Why use a pest control trained bird and not use a hunting bird?
One word- Control.
The pest control trained bird will focus on the handler and keep close to him. It will go where it is told and stay where it is told. A hunting bird will see its handler as an inconvenient necessity that it needs solely to go out killing.
The pest control trained bird will behave itself whereas a hunting bird may kill a single bird in an awkward place, start feeding and get a gutful before the prey is wrestled from them. This makes them less proficient flyers and, at worst, ends their day.
The pest control trained bird will behave itself whereas a hunting bird will kill in front of employees, visitors, members of the public etc. And when they kill, it is brutal. Not good PR.
Why use different birds for different jobs?
“Put a glove on a yucca plant and you can control a Harris Hawk.”
It’s the go-to bird for those who want an easy life or who don’t have much experience and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But what a Harris Hawk isn’t is big. It is a darting, quick attacking bird.
That’s great for pigeons but try your Harris Hawk vs seagulls or rooks and you may well have a beaten-up bird on your hands. Worst case scenario, a dead one.
For seagulls you need a big, towering, diving bird like a gyrfalcon or saker. It will scare the bejesus out of the normally brutish seagulls and get them to set up their breeding sites elsewhere. After all, who wants to raise children in a bad neighbourhood?
So really no killing?
Don’t get me wrong, if the pest birds are hard to shift and they are stubbornly sticking around a site then either a hunting bird or a rifle can be used. Luckily, it doesn’t take much to reinforce the lethal threat to the rest of the flock. But it needs to be the last resort.
This isn’t just my opinion, it is law! Probably one of the most abused pest control laws there is- https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/669161/gl05-birds-phs-licence.PDF
A lot of companies out there will offer a monthly falconry visit to a site.
I honestly cannot think why. I struggle to remember what I was up to last month, do you really think a bird will remember? We see this all the time. I can only think that falconry companies have come up with this model in response to objections over price. If you are receiving this sort of service watch your falconer closely. The birds will disperse when they see his van arrive, in many cases they are off before he/she has even opened his door. Then, once he/she is off site they will be back within the hour. No sweat.
This isn’t vaguely hostile, just a day-to-day inconvenience for the pests. I don’t call that control.
Most of the time these services are backed up by quarterly shoots where the pest controllers turn up mob handed and reduces numbers by killing. This is where they really get their results and it makes me wonder what the point of having a bird of prey there is at all? It seems less about deterrence and more about elaborate marketing to craft a perceived point of difference that is nothing more than showy prestidigitation. I’m back on my soapbox, how did I get up here again?
Constant pressure is the only answer to really embed the idea in the past birds’ little minds: This Site=Danger.
Considering all of this we have devised a schedule of falconry routines which has proven extremely effective on all sites. We informally call it the “3-2-1 Falconry Service” because it consists of three stages:
3 visits per week for three weeks- this is where most of the deterrence gets done. The bird of prey can be allowed to dispatch pest birds to set an example. The idea is that the birds are convinced into believing that a predator has moved in next door.
2 visits per week for two weeks- the pigeons should by now be nervous of the site but they will still be naturally inquisitive, flying over every so often to see if it’s safe to return. This needs to be discouraged, so the visit frequency is still quite high.
1 visit per week ongoing- a reminder to birds who are considering taking up residence that there is still a predator here. This is usually enough to maintain the hostile environment.
This does end up being more expensive than the common ineffective services being pushed, but it is effective.
Regular readers of this blog will get bored of me talking about creating a hostile environment. It doesn’t just need one aspect of bird control to get pest birds really avoiding a site. It needs to be several different pressures at once. On several of our sites we combine the following:
- falconry (lead service)
- Laser deterrent
See how shooting comes last? Just saying.
Anyway if you’ve got this far we really should talk. Don’t settle for bad falconry, don’t be fooled by hobbyists, contact us and get a decent service: