Just before dusk, professional falconer Adam Baz prepares to send flying his trained Harris hawk, Mars, to drive crows out of the downtown area of Madera. City officials say that hawks have been effective so far in keeping thousands of crows from roosting nightly downtown. Photos by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Itâ€™s nearly dusk in downtown Madera, but most anybody who has frequented the area in recent years would notice a big difference.
Back then, â€œThe county courthouse was just lined with crows. There were literally hundreds, hundreds of them,â€ recounted Steve Copland, a downtown insurance broker and board member of the Madera Downtown Association.
That was on top of the thousands and more crows that would perch nightly along power lines, rooftops, awnings, trees and utility poles across downtown.
If the combined cawing wasnâ€™t enough of a nuisance, city officials and business operators said what was worse was the vast amounts of poop on streets, sidewalks, storefronts, signs and cars parked around bars and other businesses open at night.
But that has changed.
A couple of weeks ago, near dusk, hardly any crows could be seen, and Copland said on most nights in recent weeks few have been showing up. He credited the change to a trio of falconers and their trained hawks, who since last month have made periodic visits to downtown Madera.
On this night, falconer Adam Baz was here with his Harris hawk, Mars.
Standing in a downtown parking lot, Baz let Mars fly to various roofs and utility poles, essentially to make his presence known to any crows looking to roost for the night.
It wasnâ€™t long before a couple of crows showed up, cawing loudly and flying in circles around Mars â€” though keeping a good distance away â€” likely trying to annoy the hawk so it might fly away.
But Mars held his perch, and it was the crows that ended up fleeing, as most crows in the area have been doing since Mars and the other trained falcons have been coming downtown.
The same has happened in downtown Hanford, since falconers with Portland-based Integrated Avian Solutions began flying hawks there on Oct. 1, 2018.
â€œWe had immediate results,â€ said Michelle Brown, executive director of Main Street Hanford, a nonprofit promoting downtown businesses.
She described years of problems from crows in the thousands roosting in her downtown.
â€œYou would not believe the mess they would leave on downtown sidewalks.â€
Past methods to drive the crows away didnâ€™t work. That included installing speakers on buildings to generate predator sounds and, years ago, actually shooting some of the birds, Brown said.
But last year, the downtown Hanford group started researching the problem and found out Portland had success alleviating its crow problem by hiring Integrated Avian Solutions, and Brown said her group partnered with the city to hire the falconry business.
And after word got out about the falconersâ€™ success in Hanford, Madera officials contracted with the same business.
Officials in both cities are quick to note that the falcons arenâ€™t sent out to kill the crows.
Though Mars, the hawk, probably is a bit smaller than some of the crows, heâ€™s a predator, and the crows recognize that and donâ€™t want to be near him, said Baz, who lives in both Woodlake and Los Angeles.
Falconry, which can include working with hawks and eagles, has been around for centuries as a method of using the trained birds to hunt. But over about the past decade the use of the raptor birds to control nuisance bird populations has grown dramatically, Baz said.
â€œCrows are smart,â€ which is why piping the sound of predators from buildings doesnâ€™t work for long, as the birds donâ€™t actually see a predator and ignore the noise, he said.
In fact, that intelligence is why they like to roost in groups during fall and winter in Valley downtown areas, as they tend to be well lit â€” allowing then to see actual predators â€” and cities tend to be warmer at night than rural areas, Baz said.
â€œPlus downtown environments tend to be predator-free environments,â€ he said, adding that in Hanford and Madera, To combat the crow problems, â€œWe basically use highly specialized and trained hawks to haze and harass roosting crow and compel them to leave,â€ Baz explained.
By coming back with the hawks periodically, crows recognize the downtown area as the hawksâ€™ territory and stay away.
At least thatâ€™s whatâ€™s happening so far.
â€œIts not that theyâ€™re pests, but they sit on all these telephone lines and poop on everything â€” all over our parking lot. If you have a black BMW, youâ€™re not happy,â€ said Danny Brewer, general manager of the La Quinta Inn in downtown Madera, which opened in November under the new name after undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation.
â€œI woke up the other morning here, and there had to be a thousand crows all around my property,â€ before the hawks were put on the job, he said.
Since then, the difference has been tremendous, Brewer said. â€œI donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve seen much [crows] in the last couple of weeks.â€
But the success at hazing crows has come at a price.
In Hanford, the city and Main Street Hanford have ponied up $44,500 for falconry services from October to April, as crows migrate away to more remote areas in the other months to breed and give birth.
In Madera, the city, Madera County â€” which has buildings in the downtown area â€” the Madera Downtown Association and the cityâ€™s parking district have paid $8,500 so far for falconry services and still need $21,500 to pay for the service to continue through April.
But after April, the hawks will be needed again, starting about October, to keep the crows from inundating downtown again.
For her part, Brown already is working on that, having begun discussions with Hanford officials to possibly double the budget to see if the hawks could be flown in a wider area so that the crows, that have been roosting just outside the downtown area since the falconers arrived, could be herded away from all the cityâ€™s business districts.
â€œI think our goal is to fine tune it for the entire community and not just downtown Hanford. Of course that takes money.â€
In Madera, the county supervisors said that besides considering whether to fund the crow hazing, they will consider whether to expand the program to include pigeons, also a nuisance, though not as big a one as the crows had been.
Baz said his company can haze pigeons to drive them from downtown, but the hawks would have to go out during daylight hours.
Copland said heâ€™s having thoughts similar to Brownâ€™s, as the crows driven out of downtown Madera are roosting in other areas outside the district, including a grocery story parking lot.
He said he would like to haze the birds out of all of Maderaâ€™s retail and residential areas and drive them to roost in the eucalyptus trees along Highway 99 or in orchards outside the urban areas.
â€œMaybe we can go to private businesses outside the downtown area and see if we can get some private offices to kick in few bucks,â€ he said,
To see a video of a trained hawk being used to drive crows from downtown Madera, go online to https://bit.ly/2FeabOs.