The Saker falcon circles a couple hundred feet away, intent on a bird-size leather bundle fashioned to resemble a pair of small wings. Containing a morsel of rabbit meat, the package swings in a low arc at the end of a line secured to a lure pole about the length of a fishing rod; holding the other end of the pole, trainer Steve Siebert is intent, in turn, on his year-old falcon, Shadow.
Shadow wheels and plunges toward the bait, flinging herself skyward again when Siebert yanks the food away at the last second. After a few more passes, Siebert allows the bird, about 18 inches from head to tail, to nail the bait package and gobble its contents.
“They work for the food,” said Marsha Flamm, a fellow falconer and sometime partner, as well as director of the Raptor House Rehabilitation Center in Yakima, Washington.
Flamm said she and Siebert stake out the orchard around dawn to study the starlings’ feeding habits and determine where to work out the falcons for maximum exposure.
A few such demonstrations are enough to drive off most starlings intent on pillaging cherries. After a week or two, Siebert said, even the stubborn birds “will see there’s a new sheriff in town.”
“Sometimes they’ll move right out of the area,” Flamm said. “They’ll realize there’s a hunting falcon around. Every time they see them, they’re in hunting mode. It really impresses the problem birds.”
Siebert noted that the idea is to intimidate rather than kill the starlings.
“One reason it’s attractive to many people is that it’s nonlethal,” Siebert said. “We’re just telling