Monday, January 07, 2013

Falcons Used To Clear Refineries of Starlings

The Phillips 66 refinery in Billings, Montana two nearby refineries have used falcons to scare thousands of starlings from roosting each night. Refineries across the country are now paying thousands of dollars a day to bring in rare raptors to chase away the nuisance birds that sully their facilities. It is a relatively new form of pest-control. The falcons are worth about $1,000.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife department started issuing commercial falconry licenses six years ago and has only issued 92 as of last month. But refineries say falconry is proving far more effective than old methods like poison, pellet guns or sonar devices, and as the technique takes off, some oil-industry veterans are going soft for the birds, which can travel faster than 200 miles an hour and spot a meal from a great distance. Meanwhile falconers, many of them die-hard conservationists, say they are learning to appreciate the virtues of the oil industry.

Falcons are being used to rid Exxon Mobil's refinery in Torrance, California of pigeons. The Valero McKee refinery in Sunray, Texas, about four winters ago, starting using falcons to solve their night bird problem.
Michael Gregston

Starlings, which arrived in the U.S. more than a century ago, have become particularly vexing to refineries in recent years. The tiny birds travel in enormous flocks seeking warmth in the winter months, and their corrosive, slippery droppings pose safety hazards and can cause structural damage.
Falconers typically fly a team of three to four birds for an hour nightly over a period of several weeks, until the starlings eventually disappear for the season. Falconers simply release the birds into the air, which causes the starlings to scatter and squawk in distress. At the falconer's call, the predators zoom back to their perch. It works, falconers say, because the threat of predation is the only thing that will keep nuisance birds at bay for longer than a day or two. As a bonus, there is hardly any carnage—the starlings flee out of sheer terror. On the rare occasion that a raptor does manage to scarf down a starling on the job, his shift is over, since the birds hunt only when they are hungry. (WSJ, 1/6/2013, illustration courtesy WSJ, Photo Credit: Refinery Flock Triptych by Massimo Cristaldi)

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