At Featherstone, we are responsible for our vines from the ground to the air. In order to limit the damage that nuisance birds -like starlings- cause to our grape crop, co-owner Louise Engel has become a licensed falconer and flies a Harris hawk in the vineyard. The presence of a hawk in the vineyard is a natural deterrent to nuisance birds, and capitalizes on the predator/prey relationship.

Bird Pressure at Featherstone

Birds exert a pressure on grapes – just like mildew and mould do. Both mildew and bird pressure can be treated, contained and controlled to a certain extent. Birds, like mildew, represent a potential threat that could be a huge influence on the grape crop if left unchecked. However, birds could also be a minimal influence, depending on the year and how well we control them. We have found bird pressure to be seasonal and some years are worse than others.

Nuisance birds, like starlings, fly by and often stop for a meal.They take fruit but they also damage fruit and leave it. Damaged fruit is actually worse than ‘no fruit’ because the damaged grapes attract fruit flies and this, in turn, encourages rot.

Bird Control Strategies

We try not to let birds settle in. If a resident population is established, others are attracted.

  • Propane powered bird bangers: We have 4 bird bangers that are out by Aug 15. (We have great neighbours so the noise is not a huge issue) The bangers are most effective on flock birds.
  • Battery powered bird distress recording ‘squawk-box’. Most effective with flock birds.
  • Netting is put on the grapes that are left to hang for Icewine and Select Late Harvest dessert wine. The Pinot Noir is also netted because it is closest to the woods and suffers badly from bird damage.
  • A raptor,  or bird of prey, is an effective deterrent on resident pest birds. 

Any one of these control strategies alone is not completely effective. Some work better in certain years but all of them in combination are very effective.

Find out how Louise uses her Harris Hawk Amadeus as part of Featherstone’s pest bird control strategy.

Quick facts about Amadeus

  • Male Harris’ hawk hatched in June 2003
  • His year is divided into 2 seasons- working and holidays. He is on holidays from November to April. He is left alone in his aviary and fed generously. His stress level goes down since he is not being handled and he gets to be fat and happy. In the summer, when I am free flying him he has to come to my glove for all food. This necessitates a lower weight or ‘hunting weight’.
  • In the summer, his ideal flying weight is 590 gm. and just 10 grams can make a big difference in his attitude towards being handled.
  • Because the breed is native to Central and South America, I am careful about frostbite on his toes in the winter. In May, “Spring Training” starts and I start to cut back his food a little and get him doing exercises to regain muscle tone and fitness.
  • In captivity, a Harris’ hawk has a life span of 20-25 years. Owning a raptor is a huge commitment. Anyone considering this should be prepared for a substantial, long-term time commitment – on par with owning and training a horse.