Alhambra, a Harris eagle whose ancestors come from the Sonoran desert, spreads its wings with the sun on its back and the shadow it casts is terrifying, especially if you are a dove, a parrot or a magpie. And that’s the idea.
Alhambra is one of the four birds of prey, two eagles and two hawks that Burjassot Town Council has contracted to chase away the birds that eat the crops of the municipality, whose municipality borders Valencia.
“Look, look how they are all eating behind the tractor. They’re not afraid of noise”, says a municipal employee when he arrives at the field where the birds of prey are going to be released. The effect is almost immediate.
On the second flight of Alhambra, which is five years old and measures 90 centimetres with its wings open, the pigeons react as if Attila the Hun had arrived at the orchard. They draw wider and wider turns in the air and move away to the north.
The use of birds of prey was approved at the request of the Burjassot Agrarian Council, in which farmers are represented, which called for a solution to what it considers a plague of pigeons and other birds that are spoiling their fields, especially those of lettuce, artichokes, potatoes and tigernuts.
“We debated the proposal and decided that, instead of exterminating them, it was to improve them, making them stop considering the orchard as a safe area,” says the Councillor for the Environment of Burjassot, Lluna Àrias.
“Protecting the economic activity of agriculture is for us a priority, which also serves to protect the natural space of the orchard. But we want to do it in a sustainable and safe way, promoting and favoring biodiversity,” adds the mayor.
The falconer hired by the company Lokímica to work in Burjassot -who asks that his name not be revealed due to an intricate commercial affair- opens the trunk of the car and takes out Jimena, another six-year-old Harris eagle, from a cage.
To cheer him up, the man takes a couple of chicks -which, he explains, are sold frozen-, tears them apart with his hands, keeps them in a bag and inserts small quantities into the almost clenched fist, on which Jimena rests each time he calls her.
The falconer learned his father’s trade and has adapted it to the new ecological sensitivity, expanding hunting services to the non-cruel “population control” of the kind he is now providing.
Their relationship with the birds of prey is close, and this guarantees that they do not escape, for example, towards the Sierra de la Calderona, which is cut off on the horizon. “This one is paired with me.
He doesn’t let me go more than 20 metres and he doesn’t like anyone to come near me”, he explains, and Jimena’s penetrating gaze seems to agree with him.
Trained not to kill
Eagles, falcons, goshawks and other home-breeding species are trained “not to kill”. “But if they see a stunned bird, they will catch it. They are predators.
Instinct is instinct. Magpies are among the most likely victims of Alhambra and Jimena, says the falconer, because they are mistaken for rat eagles, which do not hunt them. “Anyway, when they catch the first one, the others don’t come back.
The “shock plan” against the birds that have invaded the Burjassot orchard will last three months, with flights of one hour three times a week. “Never at the same time of day, so that they do not know when they will appear.
The aim is that they always feel insecure here. Then there will be a second phase, of maintenance, with less frequent releases and a duration difficult to determine. The reason is that the pigeons develop a great attachment to the places where they settle, “and it is not easy to make them change their mind.
Harris’ eagles have a short flying radius – the hawks cover a little more – so their owner will stop every day at a place in the municipality.
As such, pigeons and other birds are likely to leave Burjassot and seek refuge in the orchards of neighbouring villages. “It’s possible,” admits the falconer, who doesn’t make the prospect of his town halls calling him ugly.