By Elspeth Brown
April is the month when everything is blooming and animals are waking up hungry from their sleepy slumber. In colder months, rodents take cover in warmer spaces, but from March to May they come out in force because their food sources are available. April is also a great month to see birds. They are starting to breed and need food to feed their young.
While birders and people who love seeing an occasional gopher are happy, vineyard owners may not welcome the sight. The damage that birds and rodents can have on a vineyard is enormous. Gophers and voles often chew on grapevine roots, leading to dead vines. They can also destroy irrigation systems. On the East Coast, vintners worry about Cedar Waxwings and American Robins. On the West Coast, their concern is with European Starlings and blackbirds. A flock of starlings can decimate a vineyard in a week’s time. Some birds grab the whole grape, while others peck at the fruit. Starlings can cause more than $1 billion in damages annually to the agricultural industry.
Jeff Curtis of Curtis-Wright Falconry in Asheville recently appeared as a guest during my virtual wine tasting. Joining him was his Barn Owl, Oscar, and his Peregrine Falcon, Pisgah. When you book a falconry experience with Curtis-Wright, you learn the ancient sport of falconry. Participants will gain understanding of how to handle the raptors while also flying them to your glove. It was amazing to see the birds and interact with them during the wine tasting, but it was even more interesting to have Jeff explain the many benefits of these birds in a vineyard setting.
There are various ways to prevent birds and rodents from destroying your annual crop. Vintners can spray the grapes; they can flood the vineyard and ultimately flood out the gophers; or set traps and put out poison. While these are all effective methods of elimination, there are natural ways that are better in the long run for the consumer.
Some wineries install owl boxes for Barn Owls to roost in, which gives owls a chance to feed on gophers and mice. A pair of Barn Owls can kill and eat 1,200 or more rodents per year. Some vineyard owners also hire falconers to bring their birds of prey to survey the land while, at the same time, scaring away the birds that damage grapevines. The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest member of the animal kingdom and can dive at more than 200 miles an hour. Falcons can cover a vast amount of ground quickly and can spot prey from more than 100 feet in the air. These animals can be extremely effective in eradicating unwanted creatures in a vineyard. Even though more natural methods might take more time and energy to rid your vineyard of rodents and birds, in the long run they are better for the environment.
The use of birds of prey in a vineyard is an ancient way of controlling the destruction of grapevines. Even in this age of modern technology, it is effective, safer for the environment, produces a more organic product for consumers and is the coolest form of animal management.
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street, in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.