Raptors on the Roll

Birds of prey take to the air to clear the skies of invasive species.

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There are Reservoir Dogs and then there are landfill falcons.

One is the title of a Quentin Tarantino film, while the other is being looked at as a way to help control unwanted residents at the city of Walla Walla’s Sudbury Landfill.

The unwelcome guests are primarily European starlings and house sparrows, as well as seagulls, crows and ravens. All of them regard the landfill as a giant smorgasbord.

In the past, the city has used a species-specific poison to control starlngs. It also employed propane cannons to scare away birds. Some populations, if left unchecked, can balloon out of control. “There’s about 300 resident house sparrows (at the landfill). Then, before you know it, there’s 4,000 of them,” said Mori Struve, city of Walla Walla public works manager

Since last year, the city has not used poison to control starlings due to complaints from nearby residents who reported finding numerous dead birds in their yards. In regard to the propane cannon, the birds got used to the pyrotechnics, which rendered that technique ineffective.

“To avoid that, we tried finding other methods,” Struve said. The city put out a request for proposals and from the responses, chose to employ Airstrike Bird Control, which uses raptors to reign in problem bird populations at airports, landfills, vineyards and other areas.

This is what brought Ryan Spaniel of Airstrike to the landfill on a bright winter morning earlier this month. Perched in the back of his Jeep Cherokee wagon were three female falcons, a Peregrine, a Barbary-Taita hybrid and a petite Aplomado, a species native to Peru which has migrated to the American Southwest.

Spaniel said he at first began training and flying falcons for sport, which led to his going to work for Airstrike. Being able to work at what he loves doing and getting paid for it is a dream job, he said.

The current contract calls for Spaniel and his falcons to work through the end of this month. Struve said the city is hoping to find the right balance of methods to effectively and economically control the bird populations, which wax and wane throughout the year as the populations migrate or move to other areas during the dry season in summer and early fall.

Struve said one other advantage is the raptors frighten away problem birds rather than kill them, which makes them a “greener” solution.

“If (the falcons) are an effective method and it’s cheaper, then we’ll use them,” he said.

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