Falconry unusual solution to bird problem

chucky to fist 05 FTWBy Taylor Rexrode
Staff Writer

Birds keep out of the weather and flock together on power lines and in parking lots.

At the Central Texas Marketplace, a strip center near Highway 6 and Interstate 35, Baylor students have encountered a sea of black, rustling feathers while shopping and dining out.

Grackles, a common iridescent black bird native to North and South America, frequent areas like this strip center during winter months.

Arlington junior Ryan Blue said driving through the parking lot near Panera Bread at Central Texas Marketplace was difficult.

“There was an extremely large amount of birds,” Blue said. “They seemed to congregate in patches. Even if you drove in front of them, you couldn’t get through the lanes.”

Plano junior Alex Fernandez recently noticed the grackles while driving on Highway 6 past the strip center.

“I have noticed that there are a ton of birds that should be south of here,” Fernandez said.

Dr. Joe Yelderman, a professor in the geology department, said these birds will flock to areas where they can stay warm and safe during the night.

“As someone who observes birds a lot, they roost there in the winter because it is warm and safe at night,” Yelderman said. “They have taken advantage of the space we have created for them.”

One way of moving birds that has gained popularity within the past few years is through falconry. With falconry, hawks and other predatory birds are used to push roosting birds to another location.

Fal-Tech Inc., a state-run a bird abatement company, treats areas similar to the Central Texas Marketplace as well as other areas that attract swarms of grackles.

The company uses Harris hawks, medium-size raptors that hunt in small groups, to move winter roosts of grackles, starlings, cowbirds and crows.

Fal-Tech Inc. could not confirm abating the Central Texas Marketplace due to client confidentiality.

Roger Crandall, master falconer and owner/operator of Fal-Tech, Inc., said introducing these raptors into a habitat causes birds to feel unsafe and leave.

“One of the reasons that grackles pick a location is because they feel safe there,” Crandall said. “We come in and they feel unsafe.”

Fal-Tech, Inc. brings their hawks to a roost during the day. The hawks are trained to stay within the abatement location since staying with their falconer leads to a successful catch of prey.

“They are very intelligent and social raptors,” Crandall said. “Once they learn how successful they can be, they switch gears pretty quickly.”

Crandall said each of his hawks usually catch one bird during a bird abatement service. Though controversial, Crandall said he believes this type of roost control is more effective than owl decoys and bird alarms. Where grackles quickly learn the decoys and alarms pose no threat, Crandall says that his abatement approach can keep roosts away for months.

“The range is anywhere from 60 days to 20 months,” Crandall said. “I might catch 12 grackles in a location but I’m moving thousands. It’s considered a non-lethal method because we catch so few compared to how many we move.”

These abatement services are not permanent fixes for areas like the Central Texas Marketplace.

“Unless we change the environment, I don’t know that we won’t have problems with that,” Yelderman said. “I don’t know what the absolute answer is for that because we have created a great roosting place. The birds are doing what comes naturally to them.”

Fal-Tech Inc. and other bird control companies are handled by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Hawking Association.

Falconry is among one of the most regulated field sports in the United States, requiring applicants to pass a test and have their facility regularly inspected. Falconers serve two years in an apprenticeship under a general or master falconer.