Falcon fascinates wine festival fans

RARE SIGHT: Jeremy Kumagai holds New Zealand falcon Napolean at the Marlborough Wine Festival.
RARE SIGHT: Jeremy Kumagai holds New Zealand falcon Napolean at the Marlborough Wine Festival.

The rare bird that helps protect Marlborough's grapes from being eaten by its smaller avian counterparts made a guest appearance at the Marlborough Wine Festival.

As they sipped the product of grapes that New Zealand falcons help to protect, festival-goers were treated to a close-up encounter with Napolean, a New Zealand falcon.

Sara Kross, whose PhD at the University of Canterbury focuses on falcons, was there to answer questions about Napolean.

Falcons have been released in Marlborough as part of the Falcons for Grapes programme, launched in 2005, to increase falcon numbers on the Wairau Plains and encourage them to control small grape-eating birds in vineyards.

Miss Kross said the main reason for his appearance was to raise awareness of the falcons, and many people had shown interest in learning more about them.

Napolean was born in the wild but when captured for research was found to be blind in his left eye. With little to zero chance of survival in the wild because of such limited eyesight, he was taken into captivity and, as of next month, will tour the region's schools to educate children about falcons and the programme.

Napolean will also be included in the breeding programme.

Department of Conservation South Marlborough biodiversity manager Phil Bradfield said many people had offered their time as volunteers to help with the breeding programme after meeting Napolean.

"A lot of people have not been that close up with [a falcon] before. They're very beautiful animals."

He said farmers and other landowners had also asked how they could help maintain and increase falcon numbers and he was encouraged by their support.

It is the second year a falcon has attended the Marlborough Wine Festival and Mr Bradfield hoped for a repeat next year.

The Marlborough Express