Calling in the 'bird mafia' to intimidate pesky pigeons and seagulls

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. -- Perched on a second-floor balcony, Floyd surveyed his dominion: the sparkling turquoise-blue pool below him, the steaming hot tub to the left, the bar and grill to his right and the red-tiled roofs of the posh Montage Laguna Beach resort at his back.

From this vantage point, the sharp-talon Harris's hawk kept an eye out for pesky seagulls, blackbirds and pigeons that make a mess on the roofs and steal food from guests lounging by the pool. His job was to harass the infiltrators, letting them know they weren't wanted. The brown hawk spread its wings and silently swooped from the balcony, skimming a pool umbrella before landing on the gloved hand of its trainer.

"It's a predator-prey relationship that has been going on for centuries," said Adam Chavez, a master falconer who has been employed for more than six years by the Montage to keep the 30-acre resort free of flying pests with the help of some winged muscle.

"We are the winged security," Chavez said. "We are like the bird mafia."

The sport of falconry dates back thousands of years but only in the last decade or so has it become more common to see birds of prey employed in the nuisance abatement trade. In California, dozens of falconers have turned the ancient pastime into business ventures used by an increasing tally of resorts, airports, farms and office buildings.

In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started approving permits that allow predatory birds to be used for commercial ventures. Since then, it has approved 137 active permits to use hawks, falcons and other predators for bird abatement, with 43 of those permits in California.


In an era of increasing environmental concern, hotel operators and building owners say they prefer deploying hawks and falcons instead of bird repellent, spikes, nets or fake owls to keep pigeons, seagulls and other birds from defecating, nesting or stealing food from guests and tenants.

"We realize maintaining this program for the long term is the most eco-friendly way to curb the presence of nuisance birds, ensuring all our outdoor areas remain pleasant for all our guests and patrons," said Montage Laguna Beach's general manager, Anne-Marie Houston.

Trained hawks and falcons have been especially popular for keeping seagulls away from seaside resorts, such as the Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego and Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.

They have also been used further inland to ward off pigeons and grackles from locations including U.S. Bank Tower in downtown L.A., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa.


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