Summary of Awards to Date

Use of raptors to prevent wild bird and rodent intrusion into fresh produce fields

Date

Jan. 1, 2018 - Dec. 31, 2020

Funding Agency

Center for Produce Safety

Amount Awarded

$377,556.00

Investigator

Paula Rivadeneira, Ph.D.
University of Arizona

Summary

Project description: Wild animals, such as birds and rodents, carry foodborne pathogens that may be a threat to fresh produce crops. This project will determine if the use of falconry is an efficient and cost effective natural way to deter birds and control rodents in fresh produce fields.

Objectives: This project aims to 1) Determine if the use of falconry at critical times in the growing season (post-sprouting and pre-harvest) decreases fresh produce crop loss due to contamination of crops from wild bird intrusion; 2) Establish wild native owl and kestrel programs that promote site fidelity to decrease rodent populations near fresh produce fields; and 3) Determine if the use of falconry on a large scale can be a cost-effective approach to bird and rodent deterrence compared with traditional methods.

Methods: Falconers will fly captive-bred predatory birds from sunrise to sunset to deter birds, and we will control rodent populations by attracting native owls and kestrels to fresh produce fields using nest boxes. We will also release native rehabilitated birds in agricultural areas. We will measure the success of falconry using bird counts, pre- and post-rodent trapping, and documentation of food safety risks in fields with and without falconry.

Technical Abstract

Wild animals carry foodborne pathogens that may be a threat to fresh produce crops [1, 2]. Rodents are documented carriers of E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, and can amplify the prevalence of these in the environment [3, 4]. Birds are another important risk to food safety since they can travel long distances carrying foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella and E. coli, from sources to destinations that may include agricultural areas [4-8]. Current wildlife control measures include sound and visual scare tactics, perception altering chemicals, and even unmanned aerial vehicles. None are 100 percent effective at preventing animal intrusion so growers sometimes turn to lethal methods. These techniques are in direct contrast to the public’s call for wildlife stewardship [9] and the Food Safety Modernization Act’s support of co-management techniques.

The use of falconry can be a cost effective, highly successful way to deter birds and control rodents in agricultural settings. In fact, it is already in use for some produce commodities, such as wine grapes [10- 12]. The use of trained birds and native wild owls can provide protection from nuisance animals over significantly larger areas than traditional methods. They do not require the setup required for traditional bird deterrents, or the upkeep of rodent traps. The use of falconry can eliminate the need for rodent control using poison, and can diminish or eliminate the need for lethal traps. In addition, falconry and the use of nest boxes to manage and deter wildlife are viewed by the public more positively than traditional methods [13].

This project aims to 1) Determine if the use of falconry at critical times in the growing season (post- sprouting and pre-harvest) decreases fresh produce crop loss due to contamination of crops from wild bird intrusion; 2) Establish wild native owl and kestrel programs that promote site fidelity to decrease rodent populations near fresh produce fields; and 3) Determine if the use of falconry on a large scale can be a cost-effective approach to bird and rodent deterrence compared with traditional methods.

The use of falconry to protect the crops in our multi-billion dollar fresh produce industry could have important impacts on our growers, consumers, and the environment. Fresh produce growers are not only charged with providing safe clean food to our communities all over the country, but they are stewards of their land and the fragile desert environment where they grow our food. They sometimes must take drastic measures to keep crops safe from wildlife, using poisons and other lethal measures as a last resort. The use of falconry will eliminate the need for these, and instead will use the natural instincts of animals to prevent bird and rodent intrusion into fresh produce fields. This will result in fewer negative impacts to the environment, fewer person hours deterring animals through trap placement and cleanup, fewer animal intrusions, and therefore, less risk of foodborne pathogen contamination to crops.