Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: A job for the birds

Sept./Oct. 2014 California Bountiful magazine

Meet Dave Myers, professional master falconer

Under the direction of falconer Dave Myers, hawks and falcons take to the air to protect agricultural fields and deter pest birds from damaging crops.

Fruit can be destroyed by an abundance of rodents and pest birds. Falconer Dave Myers, who lives near Lake Oroville, works with 13 raptors that take to the air to protect farmers' crops from pesky critters.

What is your official title?
I am a professional master falconer. I have a master falconer's license, as well as a permit from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. I help with pest-bird abatement, meaning I use falconry to keep birds from destroying crops and impacting businesses, such as landfills.

How do you help farmers protect their crops?
Birds—the European starling, for example—can cause catastrophic damage to crops. Even the slightest peck from a bird on a blueberry can make that berry unable to be sold. When crops are nearing peak ripeness and are ready to be harvested, a farmer will call. I send one raptor up at a time to protect the area and intimidate the destructive birds.

What crops are most susceptible to damage from pest birds?
Blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries, grapes and others are particularly susceptible.

Did you always want to be involved in this line of work?
I've been a falconer for 45 years. It started when I was young and a leader at a church camp taught me about falconry. It has always been a hobby for me, and then recently the Department of Fish and Wildlife began issuing permits for falcons to be used as pest abatement. I used my falconry experience and turned it into a career.

What is a typical day when you're working with farmers?
When we're working in agriculture, I have a 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. day, and the volume of birds is heaviest in the morning and the evening. One of the raptors will be in the air for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, and then I'll call it down. I'll wait another 15 minutes or so, until the pest birds start to increase again, and send another bird up. Farmers I've worked with have been able to see a 37 percent decrease in damage to the crops we've protected.

Do you have a busy season?
From June through September, I work with farmers who are in the midst of harvest. Then, from November to March, seagulls are a big problem for landfills, so I'm busy working with those businesses.  

How much traveling do you do for work? How far do you go?
I travel to Washington to help protect crops and am gone for about two or so months at a time. I'll bring six to 10 raptors (wearing hoods) with me. They travel on perches, and then when we get to the farm we set up an awning for them to sit under while they wait to go to work.

Tell us about the birds you employ at your company. What are their traits and specialties?
The Harris hawks from Arizona are large black hawks that specialize in rabbits that chew on irrigation lines, as well as seagulls. The Gyrfalcons are large and white and from Iceland. They work strictly in winter to help with seagulls. The peregrine falcons from California specialize in starlings, which can really destroy berries. The peregrines are small and blue, and are able to stay in the air for long periods of time. And the aplomado falcon is from Peru. She is small and specializes in starlings and robins, both a threat to berries.

What suggestions do you have for families whose gardens are being picked apart by birds?
Netting can be helpful, as well as the Mylar strips that twist and reflect in the sunshine. Kites that are made to resemble raptors can be used on windy days to deter pests. I have kites that look like hawks or bald eagles. Another option is to have a sound machine that can mimic natural predator calls like hawks or coyotes.  

What is your favorite part of your job?
I love being out in nature, meeting people and getting to see the falcons at work.

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