“A Special Kind of Air Patrol”

My parents send me interesting articles from my hometown paper, the Lakeland Ledger. One of the latest of these I got was an article by Eric Pera titled, A Special Kind of Air Patrol. It is about Polk county farmers employing American Bird Abatement Service (ABAS) to keep crops like blueberries safe from depredation by flocks of cedar waxwings and other birds. Their method? Fly falcons over the fields during the daytime. Check out the article; it has some nice pictures of the Aplomado falcons used by ABAS.

While reading the article I realized that I had a personal connection in the story: Jim Nelson, co-owner of ABAS, was quoted in there. Jim is a friend of Diane and I from back when we were living in eastern Washington state. Jim is an avid longwinger who nonetheless took time to help us train our then-new Harris’ hawk, Rusty. Rusty surprised Jim by showing enthusiasm for hunting upland birds and ducks. (Rusty also surprised him in having an absolute unwillingness to be or remain hooded.) We wish Jim and his colleagues all the best with the ABAS venture.

In the article, it says that ABAS’s “services aren’t cheap, costing as much as $600 a day for one falconer and up to four birds”. Well, I don’t know how one defines cheap here. It is likely that the falconer gets half or less of the day’s charge, so they are specialists with federal/state permits probably working for less than $40/hour. The other half would have to cover the costs of breeding, training, and maintaining the falcons. That is a not-inconsiderable expense in terms of materials and labor itself. There are travel costs and the costs of radio-telemetry for each falcon. Figure in also that ABAS likely does not have a full year-round schedule, so the days that do get paid have to cover the parts of the year that don’t. If the farmer gets about $2/pint of blueberries, and needs about a week’s protection to get the crop harvested, he comes out ahead if the falcons save him over 2,100 pints of blueberries.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.