At the Council’s June meeting, Alina Blankenship from Sky Guardian, Blaine Parker from the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, Bill Sharp of the Yakama Nation, and Kort Clayton of Integrated Avian Solutions briefed the Council on using birds of prey to scare off predators and protect out-migrating juvenile anadromous fish.
The sport of falconry, developed thousands of years ago in the middle East and central Asia, uses birds of prey as hunting tools. Today, modern falconers use a variety of raptors–falcons, hawks, and even eagles–to hunt upland game birds, waterfowl, and a variety of mammals.
Some falconers also use their skills and birds professionally to provide federally licensed abatement services for farms, public works departments, and municipalities besieged by nuisance birds that hurt crops; spread disease from landfills and on public streets; threaten airport safety from bird/aircraft collisions; and damage private property.
Currently in the Columbia Basin, hazing avian predators that prey on juvenile salmonids involves noisemakers, pyrotechnics, fencing, bird wires, propane cannons, and even lasers. But eventually, predators become acclimated to these techniques and resume their pillage, to the immense frustration of fish managers and others, unless hazing is taken to the next step and enforced with lethal take–killing. This is an extreme measure and requires the approval of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service after an exhaustive review and permitting process, and in some cases may not be authorized.
Earlier this spring, the Yakama Nation contracted professional falconers to work with their fisheries staff in a pilot project. Staff supplemented the falconry effort with standard hazing techniques, particularly at night, to successfully delay the nesting of the Miller Rocks gull colony by several weeks.
Similarly, this year, the Army Corps of Engineers at The Dalles Dam contracted with Sky Guardian to develop the efficacy of falconry as an innovative tool to reduce avian predation and enhance the static deterrents of bird wires, propane cannons, and boat-based hazing. The intent of falconry at the project is to develop an additional layer of protection against predation from gulls, double-crested cormorants, herons, and other fish-eating birds that prey on out-migrating smolts.
Using the inherent relationship between falcons and their prey to control avian predation in the Columbia River Basin is showing promise. We’ll report back on how this new technique develops in future updates.