Falconry as an option for pest control on farms

I’m a fan of the creative approach to using falcons to control wild pests on farms; with the caveat of balancing tradeoffs.

Back when I was doing on farm food safety stuff in greenhouses in Ontario (that’s in Canada) I had many farmers tell me that cats controlled the mice. They often asked what what’s worse – cat poop and feline tracking pathogens on their feet, or rodents everywhere. I never really had a good answer (and suggested traps for the the rodents). Today I saw an article form New Food Economy on using falcons as pest control on ranches and farms, with the click-worthy headline of ‘Could falcons prevent the next salmonella outbreak?’

Not if it’s linked to chicken eggs.

Maybe there’s some merit to the controlling-the-wild-with-the-trained approach, but in the absence of falcon diapers (as Don Schaffner suggested on Twitter) what’s the risk benefit tradeoff related to adding falcon poop into the mix. Maybe vaccination is the key (but I don’t know).

Wildlife biologist Paula Rivadeneira knows feces can be funny. Informally known as Paula the Poop Doctor (@PaulaThePoopDr on Twitter), she’s no stranger to the poop-based pun. Her SCATT lab—that’s Super Cool Agricultural Testing and Teaching lab to you—is a mobile research center inside a bus-sized RV, one she uses in Arizona’s crop fields to makes scat (animal droppings) scat (go away). But she also knows when poop stops being funny: if it gets into the food supply.

A simple, everyday fence can help dispel rodents and ground-based mammals. But how do you keep wild birds away from the open, vast expanse of a crop field? Over the years, farmers have struggled to find workable, cost-effective methods. Netting is too expensive and cumbersome. Chemical repellants can have taste and human health implications. A range of options exist to frighten birds away, from old-fashioned scarecrows and taped distress calls to deafening noise cannons, “exploders,” and sirens, but none are consistently reliable.

Which is where Rivadeneira comes in. As a specialist for the University of Arizona’s cooperative extension, it’s her job to find new ways to keep crop fields safely poop-free. Recently, she’s been at the forefront of a surprising new food safety initiative, one that—somewhat counterintuitively—entails bringing more birds onto agricultural lands. Rather than barricade, poison, or blast interlopers away, she’s helping farmers police their fields with the aid of an unusual ally: trained falcons.

This entry was posted in Salmonella, Wacky and Weird and tagged , by Ben Chapman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.
  • Tiffany M. White

    My name is Tiffany M. White and I’m one of the co-founders of Sonoran Desert Falconry, Inc. Thank you so much for reading the article on our project and asking some excellent questions. These are questions we have pondered as well. Here is what we’ve come up with so far:
    1. We had a field where more than a hundred birds an hour were flying directly over. Some of these were groups of swallow, that eat insects in flight (GREAT!!!) but also poop while in flight (NOT SO GREAT). Our birds poop prior to taking off or just after they land. Our few birds pooping where they land over the course of the day seemed like a better option to hundreds of wild birds pooping directly on the crop over the course of the day. Especially considering we control the point of take-off. Landing…not so much. Usually the birds come back to us but we can’t always guarantee that.
    2. As all birds don’t poop while flying over the fields, we also noticed that our birds also don’t poop at each flight. Out of several days of flying we noticed days where we had no poop at landing or prior to take off. So that’s another plus.
    3. Falconry isn’t and can’t be the only option for these growers. We must use integrated pest management or IPM to collectively solve these problems and clean up our food supply. We must look for sustainable, affordable ways that are also Eco-friendly.
    Thank you so much for bringing more awareness to this project. This is only the beginning for us all!!!
    Tiffany White
    (480) 463-4036