Member Spotlight – May 2018

  • by Will Holbert
  • May 25, 2018
  • Newsletters

A falcon employed to scare off seagulls stares into the camera.

Ancient Sport at Work in High Tech Heartland

Santa Clara Valley Water Turns to Falcons to Protect Groundwater Recharge Ponds From Seagulls

In the heart of the nation’s high-tech capital, an ancient practice is keeping homes free from one of nature’s scourges: seagull poop.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District has contracted with a licensed falconer to keep gulls from frequenting a set of groundwater recharge ponds in the Almaden Valley in South San Jose, near the water district’s headquarters. These ponds percolate water into groundwater basins and are an important part of Silicon Valley’s water supply picture.

The gulls, often hundreds thick over the ponds, have left their mark on nearby houses, making such a mess that homeowners sometimes can’t even use their backyards or go outside without fear of getting hit.

The three-month program is a trial to see how well the abatement effort works. Essentially, the falconer, Ken Elvin of Full Circle Falconry, uses five hawks and six falcons to harass the gulls.

With falconry and hunting licenses in hand from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and an abatement license from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Elvin, his birds and his dogs work as a team whose coordinated movements rely on treats, family dynamics and a bit of radio telemetry.

The birds hunt in family groups, and Elvin is a part of that group. The main object is abatement, which in this case means harassment. However, once in a while one of Elvin’s birds will catch a gull. That helps to remind the gulls to fear the falcons and hawks and keeps the abatement work effective.

“Without the fear being set, the gulls lose respect for the other methods,” he said.

Elvin carefully maintains his birds’ weight for optimal health, and feeds and exercises them accordingly.
“These birds are all athletes. I weigh them and try to fly them every day to keep them in condition. Weighing them ensures we fly them when they’re hungry.”

Licensed falconer Ken Elvin of Full Circle Falconry.

When they come back to him, he’ll give them treats, usually part of a feeder bird he keeps in a pouch on his waist while flying his birds.

Their athleticism is apparent. One recent morning at the ponds, Elvin brought out his Harris Hawks and Lanner Falcon. The birds got a treat and flew high into the air, getting comfortable with the area from the sky, while his dog Dylan, a Vizsla, or Hungarian Pointer, sniffed around and got to know the area from the ground.

The birds are fast and detail-oriented. As the Lanner falcon stooped, or dove, to the lure Elvin held out, there was a rush of wind in his wake when he swooped past.

Falcons can accelerate and decelerate in the air, and Peregrine Falcons have been clocked at 240 miles per hour in a dive. Because they’re so fast, their mental processes are extremely quick. In this instance, “bird brain” is a compliment.

The telemetry comes in when Elvin flies the birds. He’ll put a transmitter on the birds’ legs before sending them off. Using telemetry, he can track his birds, which can sometimes fly far.

“A successful day of falconry is when we get our bird back,” he said.

Elvin’s dogs work with the birds and need to be sensitive to them, as each bird will react differently to the dogs. The dogs’ jobs are to sit with the birds to protect them if they catch something and to flush, or scare up, the quarry.

While Elvin has been a falconer for 15 years, it’s not a common pursuit here. Elvin noted that in the United States, about one in 980,000 people is a falconer. In California, that number grows to about one in 450,000, but in the Middle East, where people have practiced falconry for thousands of years, about one in five people is a falconer.

Elvin got into it when he helped out a friend who was doing abatement work. He got hooked, apprenticed for two years, and now he does abatement work. He works a lot in vineyards, and also appears at renaissance faires and different educational opportunities to promote conservation and raptor biology.

“Falconry is really a world heritage,” he said.

SCVWD Water Resources Supervisor Jerry Sparkman started this falconry pilot program to see if it would work after hearing about the landfill using a similar program.

Bird abatement is nothing new to the water district. For about 10 years, the district has had a goose abatement program around the Page, Sunnyoaks, Budd and Main ponds. Fecal matter was a big problem there, and the district hired a person who uses dogs to chase off geese, which are not too threatened by falcons or hawks. Sparkman noted that this program, which has been in effect for about 10 years, has helped out substantially.

The falconry program will be evaluated when it ends later this spring, and the water district will decide how to proceed. So far, the program appears to be working, but there’s been no official decision made by the district, said SCVWD spokesman Marty Grimes.

In the meantime, Elvin and his team of birds and dogs will continue keeping the gulls at bay.


Print PDF Version

Suggested Resources

15 RESOURCES prev next
Bay-Delta Plan Update Toolkit

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

ACWA 2018 Regulatory Summit Presentations

ACWA’s 2018 Regulatory Summit was held on Oct. 16, 2018 at the Hilton Arden-West in Sacramento. The theme of this […]

Comments on Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program Implementation

Agency: State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Implementation of Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program Letter excerpt:  The Association of California Water Agencies […]

Joint Comments On Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life: Primer

Agency: Department of Water Resources Subject: Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life: Primer of 2018 Legislation on Water […]

August 2018 Federal Regulatory Chart

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Toolkit Available for Supporting, Educating About Proposition 3

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

WATER PROFESSIONALS APPRECIATION WEEK TOOLKIT

California’s second annual Water Professionals Appreciation Week will kick off Oct. 6, highlighting the important role of water industry professionals […]

Comments on 2018 Draft Basin Prioritization Under SGMA

Agency: California Department of Water Resources Subject: 2018 Draft Basin Prioritization under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Letter excerpt:  The Association of […]

Bay-Delta Plan Resources

The following resources related to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and related documents are available to ACWA members. State […]

ACWA Dues Automation Process Webinar

ACWA has a recording available of the webinar on the new Dues Automation Process. The purpose of this recording is to assist […]

Joint Comments on Bay-Delta Plan Amendments for Flow Objectives on Lower San Joaquin River

Agency: State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Bay-Delta Plan Amendments for Flow Objectives on Lower San Joaquin River Letter excerpt: The […]

ACWA Comments on Revisions to Proposed Bay-Delta Plan Amendments

Agency: State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Revisions to Proposed Bay-Delta Plan Amendments Letter excerpt: The Association of California Water Agencies […]

2018 ACWA Member Directory

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

July 2018 Federal Regulatory Chart

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Joint Comments on Proposed Recycled Water Policy Amendment

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Suggested News

15 Articles prev next
Trump Administration Issues Memorandum on Supply and Delivery of Water in the West

The Trump administration on Oct. 19 released a “Presidential Memorandum on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in […]

ACWA NEWS: October 19, 2018

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Member Spotlight – October 2018

Q & A with Executive Director Designate Dave Eggerton What do you identify as the most significant challenge facing public […]

Faces of Water Q&A – October 2018

Jason Word, Irrigation Field Services Manager, Modesto Irrigation District 1. Describe your job. My duties consist of overseeing the operation, […]

DWR Breaks Ground on Dutch Slough Tidal Restoration Project

SACRAMENTO – The Department of Water Resources (DWR), along with state and local partners,  celebrated the groundbreaking of the Delta’s […]

Moulton Niguel Awarded $300,000 Federal Grant to Prevent Leaks, Upgrade Meter Technology

Moulton Niguel Water District is getting a boost in its efforts to detect leaks and upgrade its infrastructure. This month, […]

ACWA Regulatory Summit Looks Ahead on Treatment Methods, Rules

ACWA’s 2018 Regulatory Summit hosted scientists, experts and representatives from state government who shared insights with approximately 120 attendees on […]

DWR Accepting Public Comments on Draft Guidelines for Prop 1 IRWM Implementation Grant Program

On Oct. 5,  DWR released the 2018 Proposition 1 – Round 1 IRWM Implementation Grant Draft Proposal Solicitation Package and IRWM Grant Program […]

VID Accepts Statewide Award for Governance and Transparency

VISTA — The Vista Irrigation District (district) has received a major statewide honor, the District of Distinction Gold Recognition award. Additionally, […]

Water Professionals Appreciation Week 2018 Showcases Agencies’ Creative Side

Water agencies throughout California celebrated the second annual Water Professionals Appreciation Week between Oct. 6-14 by highlighting career opportunities and […]

EMWD Hosts Free Birding Tours Beginning in October

PERRIS — Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) is again hosting its monthly birding tours at EMWD’s San Jacinto Wetlands beginning […]

TUD Hires New General Manager

After an extensive and collaborative executive recruitment process, the Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) Board of Directors has selected a new […]

‘Beyond the Brink’ Now Available on DVD

Filmmaker and Producer Jim Thebaut’s exploration of a future where water, food, and natural resources teeter on the edge of […]

Four Riverside County Schools Awarded Coveted Solar Cup Competition Sponsorships

RIVERSIDE – Western Municipal Water District (Western) has announced it will sponsor four teams from its service area in western […]

PWD Shares Water Facts with Students on “Imagine A Day Without Water”

PALMDALE – To mark the fourth annual Imagine a Day Without Water, Palmdale Water District (PWD) staff visited Palmdale Prep Academy […]