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by Larry

September, 2016

Raptors to the Rescue

Human residents of Austin, Fort Worth, Hillsboro, Houston, San Antonio, Waco, and several other TX communities have a problem: thousands if not millions of scavenging, congregating, squawking, and pooping grackles and starlings that gather by the hundreds at a time in our trees and drop buckets of their hard to remove smelly feces on cars, bike paths, sidewalks, greenbelts, river and lake park waterways, and people, or grab their food or harass their infants or make for extra slipperiness on pedestrian and auto thoroughfares when it rains. Many believe this challenge is not unique to TX but exists in scores of locations across our great land.

Yet there’s a new kind of terror from the skies for such obnoxious accumulations of unwanted fowl. And for the rest of us, hope is on the horizon, flying in the form of modern falconry, in this case from the likes of Tiberius, a Harris’ hawk used by Blackjack Bird Abatement. Tiberius has been on the job and appears to be getting results.

Ever notice in the news how few people are in the water at popular beaches after rumors of a shark attack? Nuisance birds as well are aware when there are new threats nearby and tend to leave areas where they occur. Tiberius and other hawks need only make an appearance close to where the grackles and starlings roost. If they occasionally capture and kill one, so much the better. The "word" gets out. Grackles and starlings clear off when their favorite gathering spots are no longer seen as safe.

The raptors usually are more active during the day, but with artificial lighting in downtown areas they can be trained to extend that into the evening hours when nuisance avian socializing is more apparent. If the grackles and starlings see Tiberius or other hawks on successive nights, they vacate the area.

Jeff Cattoor, owner of the bird abatement company, has already been successfully scaring blackbirds in downtown Fort Worth and the riverwalk area of San Antonio. Now he and his hawks have been hired to do the same in Waco.

Working with even well trained feathery friends is not without risk. They require careful treatment. Harris’ hawks have sharp beaks and half-inch-long talons. Mark Smith, Tiberius’ handler, notes substantial scratches on one wrist. He had Tiberius in the truck with him when he went to adjust the AC. Tiberius got him good that time. Smith remarked that perhaps the raptor was already cool enough. In any case, hawks can get moody just like anybody.

How long will Tiberius be helping with bird abatement? It is hard to say. He is as yet a young hawk. A healthy one can serve in this way for 20 years. This contrasts with hawks’ experiences in the wild. Normally 70% die in their first year. For Harris’ hawks, the employee benefits package can include a greatly extended life expectancy.

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