Grape idea to help save falcons

Bush falcon swoops in to save vineyards

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2014
falcon

SAVIOUR: As well as helping wineries protect their grapes from birds, falcons will also attract tourists.

Jane Lenting
VINEYARD VIGIL: Palliser Estate vineyard cellar sales manager Jane Lenting is leading a project to introduce rare New Zealand falcons to Martinborough.

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A ferocious predator described as the V8 supercar of the skies is to help protect Wairarapa's finest wines.

Martinborough woman Jane Lenting is planning to relocate threatened New Zealand bush falcon, or karearea, chicks from the Wingspan national bird of prey centre in Rotorua.

"We're doing a favour to the species but a favour to ourselves as well," said Lenting, cellar sales manager at Palliser Estate vineyard.

The birds, which can reach diving speeds of about 200kmh, are wanted to keep down numbers of grape-loving pest birds, such as starlings and blackbirds.

"Little birds are absolutely terrified of falcons . . . the bird has no idea what hit it," Lenting said.

The project, backed by industry group Wines From Martinborough and the South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group, is applying for a licence from the Department of Conservation to bring the chicks south after they hatch in September.

As well as helping wineries protect their grapes from birds, the falcons will attract tourists and help the species survive.

Karearea are classed as threatened and number fewer than 10,000 nationwide - rarer than the kiwi. Once widespread, they have not been seen near Martinborough for many years.

Wingspan spokeswoman Ineke Smets said 75 per cent of falcons died before they were a year old, about 200 a year were shot and many more were killed by flying into powerlines, windows and fences, or by predators such as cats and stoats.

Owners of poultry and pigeons sometimes feared falcons, but the centre could help them find ways to keep their birds safe, she said.

"And falcons were here first, and they're the ones that are threatened. And they don't kill for fun, unlike a cat - a falcon only kills when it's hungry."

The chicks would be transported south three weeks after hatching, around October, when they could eat without their parents.

Housed in a raised artificial nest in Martinborough, they would be fed without human contact until they learnt to fly and hunt for themselves.

THE V8 OF THE SKY

Wingspan's website likens karearea to V8 supercars. At about the size of a magpie, they are half the size of the common swamp harrier hawk.

While hawks eat road-kill and cruise the skies to hunt, falcons perch totally still in trees before launching surprise, dive-bomb attacks at speeds of more than 200kmh.

Studies have shown they have a minimal impact on other native birds, which have evolved to deal better with them; but they are devastating to introduced species - which cause the most damage to vineyards.

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- The Dominion Post

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