NAPA (KPIX 5) — Intruders entering Napa Valley vineyards are threatening massive damage to the wine grape crop, but one woman and her small flock of helpers are standing in their way.
The grape harvest is well under way for wineries in the region and thatâs an invitation to thousands of local and migrating birds to get an easy meal. Itâs Rebecca Rosenâs job to make it a little harder.READ MORE: State Sen. Wiener's Recovery Incentives Act Would Pay Meth Addicts to Stay Sober
âHer truck would pull up in the vineyard and, literally, youâll see liftoff because they know what she has on her,â said Lise Asimont, Operations Director for the vineyards at Cakebread Cellars winery.
Rosen is a falconer hired by various Napa wineries to use her raptor friends to scare off the smaller birds. She swings a feathered lure, which the soaring falcons swoop down on. If they can grab it, they get a treat. After just a few minutes of this hunting behavior, most of the smaller birds in the area are willing to move along.
âEssentially, the more we fly, the more we train the wild birds to stay away,â said Rosen. âSo, at a time when you would normally have, say, 500 birds in the grapes, after two weeks of intense flying the falcon, the bulk of them will move off so youâll only be fighting 15 to 20 birds.â
Her raptors have different personalities. An aggressive peregrine falcon named Rambo is all business and Rosen calls him one of her âenforcers.â And then thereâs E.B., a hybrid-breed falcon who is one of the more laid-back members of her flock.
âI can get more work out of these guys than the enforcers,â she said, âbut the enforcers really make a difference when the birds are like, ‘Oh, your falconâs not really serious.’âREAD MORE: Notorious Norteño Gang Member 'Lil Rhino' Sentenced For Carrying Out Jailhouse Attacks
But the job theyâre doing is completely serious to Cakebread Cellars.
âYou can actually lose your entire crop to a flock of starlings in a couple seconds or minutes. Iâm quite sure of it. So, sheâs incredibly effective,â said Asimont.
Rosena says birds are actually pretty lazy and prefer not to fly unless they have to. But she says thatâs the reason her falcons are so effective in driving other birds away.
âBecause the birds expend more energy running from the falcon when they can just, you know, go eat the neighborâs grapes and not be hassled at all,â she said.
There are also wild raptors in the area and they have a similar effect. But Rosen says by focusing her activity on a specific vineyard, it makes that area off-limits in the minds of the other birds.
At Cakebread Cellars, the practice began more than two decades ago when its owners took a falconry class at a winery in Europe and brought the idea back with them. Theyâve been doing it there ever since.MORE NEWS: Santa Rosa Lawmaker Proposes Plan For City-Sanctioned Sideshows
Rosen also gives public demonstrations of her raptors. The next âFalcon Experienceâ is scheduled for Nov. 10 at Bouchaine Winery.