Falcons in the vineyards

While picturesque in nature, in reality, Sonoma’s rolling vineyards can be a battleground as growers fight to keep their fruit flourishing against threats ranging from frost to pests. At Rams Gate Winery, vineyard managers are turning to falcons to combat a particularly persistent pest: the starling.

After losing tons of grapes each year to the penetrating pecks of starlings, Rams Gate contacted Tactical Avian Predators, a Reno-based company that brings a team of falcons to patrol agricultural fields and other businesses that attract avian annoyances in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Proprietor Jim Tigan will be spending the harvest season at the winery just north of Highway 37, where his cast of falcons will scare the starlings away from the vines.

“There’s a coolness factor with this, it’s different. It’s using nature against nature in a sustainable way,” said Ned Hill of La Prenda Vineyards, who manages the 30 acres of pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and syrah at Rams Gate.

Hill said after losing an entire crop of pinot noir grapes to starlings during the winery’s first harvest season, Rams Gate began spending upwards of $15,000 a year on different techniques to drive the birds away from the fruit.

“We were only being somewhat successful,” he said, explaining that the winery still lost two-to-four tons of grapes each season to the starlings.

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