Summary of Awards to Date

Evaluation of falconry as an economically viable co-management strategy to deter nuisance birds in leafy green fields

Date

Jan. 1, 2015 - Dec. 31, 2015

Funding Agency

Center for Produce Safety

Amount Awarded

$49,336.00

Investigator

Michele Jay-Russell, Ph.D.
University of California, Davis

Co-Investigator(s)

Trevor Suslow, Ph.D., University of California, Davis

Summary

Best practices to reduce food safety risks from animal hazards during production and harvest have been published by the leafy greens industry. However, growers report that controlling nuisance birds (e.g., crows, blackbirds, starlings, geese), particularly social species that aggregate in large numbers and may cause focal or widespread fecal contamination, remains the most challenging area of co-management in leafy greens production. We propose to conduct a ‘proof of concept’ project to evaluate bird attractants and the use of commercial falconry, a popular and potentially highly effective method, as an economically viable co-management strategy to deter nuisance birds in leafy green fields. We will conduct two field trials (Spring, Fall) in the central California coast with the objectives to: 1) characterize key bird behavior and attractants in the leafy greens farmscape with a known history of bird intrusions and human pathogen-driven crop losses and 2) build data-driven support capacity for implementation of commercial falconry to reduce the risk of microbial contamination of leafy greens. Results from this study will be communicated widely in the leafy greens growing community to inform the industry of the potential viability of using falconry as an environmentally benign—or even beneficial—approach to non-lethal nuisance bird control.

Technical Abstract

Foodborne pathogen strains associated with fresh produce-related outbreaks have been found in environmental samples including fecal material from local wild or feral animal populations collected during root cause investigations. A wild animal shedding a zoonotic foodborne pathogen could contaminate plants directly through fecal deposition or indirectly via fecal contamination of agricultural water or soil in contact with the plants. Mitigation strategies to reduce food safety risks from animal hazards during production and harvest have been developed by the Arizona and California leafy greens industries through marketing agreements. However, growers report that controlling nuisance birds (e.g., crows, blackbirds, starlings, geese), particularly social species that aggregate in large numbers and may cause focal or widespread fecal contamination in agriculture fields, remains the most challenging area of co-management in fresh produce production(Research Priority 1.3.3). There is an urgent need to identify production practices and environmental factors that may attract and increase the likelihood of bird intrusion into produce production fields and to identify practical, cost-effective and sustainable means to deter birds from being attracted to produce production fields (Research Priority 2.2.1).

To address this important area of applied produce food safety research, we propose to conduct a ‘proof of concept’ project to evaluate the use of commercial falconry as an economically viable co-management strategy to deter nuisance birds in leafy green fields. Trained raptors have been used for biological control of nuisance birds at airports, stadiums, agricultural fields and garbage dumps. Despite a number of professionals offering this service, the effects of falconry techniques for biological control of birds has rarely been quantified. Falconry may be an ideal method for preventing contamination of fresh market leafy greens because of the short time frame before and during harvest in which crop contamination from bird intrusions has the potential to be dangerous to humans. Currently, growers use human labor to implement bird harassment techniques in problem areas. These include launching small stones with slings, hand-propelled screamers, and pistol-launched pyrotechnics. We hypothesize that falconry is a highly effective and economically viable method for deterring birds from leafy green fields in the most vulnerable periods for potential zoonotic contamination prior to and during harvest. To test this hypothesis, we will conduct two field trials (Spring, Fall) in the central California coast leafy greens production region during the 2015 growing season with two main objectives:

Objective 1: To characterize key bird behavior and attractants in the leafy greens farmscape with a known history of bird intrusions and human pathogen-driven crop losses.

Objective 2: To build data-driven support capacity for implementation of commercial falconry to reduce the risk of microbial contamination of leafy greens.

If successful, our goal is to bring a science-based focus and framework to evaluations of falconry in combination with other bird deterrent approaches (repellents, audio/visual devices), and to other growing regions with significant nuisance bird pressure including the southwest desert (Yuma, Imperial Valley).