HANFORD — There’s a new creature in downtown Hanford, and he’s ruffling some feathers and stirring up trouble.
Trouble for the thousands of crows, that is.
For the next six months, Adam Baz of Avian Integrated Solutions will be taking a Harris hawk named Mars around downtown Hanford as part of a crow abatement program funded by Main Street Hanford and the city.
What Baz and others at Integrated Avian Solutions do is called falconry. Essentially, they use trained raptors, like hawks and falcons, to intimidate and scare away nuisance birds, like crows.
“Essentially we take advantage of birds’ natural fear of predators — and of raptors in particular — and we use that to help move or get rid of large flocks of nuisance birds,” Baz said.
Main Street Hanford decided to try out the program after several attempts to rid the downtown area of crows failed in the past. The crows have been a detriment to downtown for many years, leaving droppings everywhere and posing a health hazard.
Baz said falconry is the most effective way of managing nuisance birds because they never acclimate to the threat of a predator, as opposed to conventional hazing techniques like loudspeakers or mylar ribbons, which the birds get used to.
Other methods, such as poison, involve endangering or killing the birds, but this program is humane and none of the crows will be killed. The hawks are highly trained and do not eat the crows, they merely threaten them by providing a predatory presence.
The crows quickly learn that the area is no longer a safe place and disperse to nearby greenspaces, parks and places with suitable trees for them to roost.
Baz goes out for a couple of nights a week and spends several hours walking around downtown with Mars. He uses a laser pointer to send Mars to perch on trees or buildings to intimidate crows in the area.
The goal is to reduce, if not eliminate, crow roosting in downtown Hanford during the coming winter.
Only three weeks into the program and Michelle Brown, executive director of Main Street Hanford, said she has seen a real difference in the amount of crows.
When Brown tagged along with Baz and Mars on their first night working in Hanford, she said she could not believe the immediate response Mars got from the crows. She said they began cawing, flying rapidly in circles and communicating with each other that a predator was in the area.
Within the hour, Brown said there was not a single crow in the area. She also said there seems to be less crows downtown in general, as evidenced by the lack of crow droppings on the sidewalks.
Crows are quicks learners, but now Baz said it’s a matter of training the crows that the hawk is here to stay.
Baz had been a bird biologist for over a decade when he was first introduced to falconry. He said he became increasingly interested with the predator/prey relationships and wanted to have more interaction with raptors, also known as birds of prey.
About five years ago, Baz said he heard about falconers who were starting to apply the technique of falconry to help manage nuisance bird populations.
“That felt like a really good combination of my interests,” Baz said.
He soon began working with Integrated Avian Solutions. The company is based out of Portland, but has operations throughout Washington, Oregon and California and has had success in its programs.
The abatement programs can be used in agricultural, industrial, commercial, residential or urban settings, where different teams use specific birds to chase away the nuisance species.
“The presence of a free-flying, living, dynamic predator is often enough to coerce flocks of nuisance birds to leave a site,” Baz said.
Mars is a Harris hawk, a species which Baz said is highly-intelligent and is ideal for an urban setting. He said Harris hawks are also effective when dealing with crows, another highly-intelligent bird.
Mars is a veteran and has been a falconry bird for four or five years. He has worked on urban crow projects for three years and is in his second year working with Baz.
During the shift, Mars flies in a way that demonstrates he means business. Baz said Mars appears to be hunting, which makes an impact on the crows.
Baz said it takes about three to six weeks of training to get a bird to fly away and back to its trainer. Training the birds to then chase the nuisance birds with intention can take several more months, he said, and he is continually training Mars.
Baz said the training process is positive reinforcement based, meaning the birds are rewarded with food when they do a behavior the trainer is trying to achieve. He said the raptors respond very well to the consistent routine.
Brown is excited about what she is seeing and said the process is working well so far, which makes her hopeful that the program will be used again, maybe even spreading the boundaries of the program in future years.
“This might be it,” Brown said of the possible solution to Hanford’s crow problem. “We’ll have to wait and see.”