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
Overview Presentations: Water Conservation/Water Use Efficiency Laws of 2018 (AB 1668/SB 606) and Implementation Challenges

State Overview by Peter Brostrom, Department of Water Resources (May 2019) Implementations Challenges by David Bolland, ACWA (May 2019) A […]

May 2019 Federal Regulatory Issues Chart

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

COMMENT LETTER: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Proposed Revised Definition of “Waters of the United States”

Agency: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Subject: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. […]

California H2O: Flowing for the Future

ACWA and J Comm, Inc. have collaborated to create a 10-part video series to educate Californians about critical water issues. […]

Energy and Water Resources Policy Principles

In January 2019, ACWA released policy principles on “Energy and Water Resources” in California. The updated principles will help guide […]

ACWA’s 2019 Spring Legal Briefing and CLE Workshop Materials

The following presentations and materials for ACWA’s 2019 Legal Briefing and CLE Workshop on May. 7 from 9 a.m. to […]

ACWA Suggested Guidelines for 2019 Triennial Reporting of Public Health Goal Exceedance in Drinking Water

Agency: Public Water Systems and State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water Subject: Suggested Guidelines for Preparation of Required […]

Executive Director Dave Eggerton Congressional Testimony on Western Water Infrastructure

Agency: House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subject: State of Western Water Infrastructure in Innovation Testimony excerpt:  It is critical […]

Coalition Letter Supporting NPDES Permit Legislation

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

March 2019 Federal Regulatory Issues Chart

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

Comment Letter: Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program Third Preliminary Draft Regulations

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

Safe Drinking Water Trust Toolkit

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

Comment Letter – OEHHA Draft Report on Human Right to Water

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

Comment Letter – Options for Implementation of a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program

Agency: California State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Options for Implementation of a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program Letter excerpt:  […]

2019 Legislative Outreach Toolkit

To assist  members in communicating and engaging with their legislative representatives, ACWA has published a 2019 Legislative Outreach Toolkit. Toolkit […]

Suggested News

15 Articles prev next
Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees Take Action on SB 669, Other Priority Water Bills

With a May 17 deadline for fiscal committees to meet and report to the floor bills introduced in their house, […]

Upper District Announces Winners of the 2019 “Water is Life” Student Art Contest

MONROVIA – Today the Board of Directors for the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (Upper District) honored 20 […]

Senate Proposes New Funding Alternative for Safe Drinking Water Solutions

Senate Budget Subcommittee No. 2 today rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget trailer bill language that proposes a water tax, instead […]

Board Approves Plan to Better Map Customers’ Irrigable Landscape as Part of Rate Study

The Palmdale Water District (PWD) Board of Directors voted unanimously Monday to hire an aerial mapping company to determine the […]

Water Authority Invites Gov. Newsom to Tour Facilities, Praises Approach to Water Security

Agency offers support: San Diego is proof ‘It can be done’ The San Diego County Water Authority today praised Gov. […]

EMWD Completes Shift to Smart Metering Technology

PERRIS — Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) has completed the installation of smart meters at all residential properties within its […]

CalEPA and The Climate Registry Launch Water-Energy Nexus Registry

SACRAMENTO – The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and The Climate Registry recently launched a Water-Energy Nexus Registry for organizations […]

Safe Drinking Water Trust Moves to Senate Appropriations Suspense File

The Senate Appropriations Committee today moved SB 669 (Caballero), the Safe Drinking Water Trust, to its Suspense Calendar. The bill, […]

ACWA Awards Five Undergraduate Scholarships for 2019-’20 Academic Year

ACWA  has awarded $22,000 in 2019-’20 academic year scholarships to five undergraduate students enrolled at California public universities who are […]

Santa Margarita Water District Selected for 2019 Clair A. Hill Agency Award for Excellence

ACWA presented the prestigious 2019 Clair A. Hill Water Agency Award for Excellence to the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) […]

Longtime industry pro joins the team at South Coast Water District

South Coast Water District (SCWD) is pleased to announce Mr. Marc Serna recently joined the executive management team at the […]

Water Tax Bill Moves to Appropriations Suspense Calendar

The Assembly Appropriations Committee today moved AB 217 (E. Garcia), which proposed a water tax on public water systems, to […]

ACWA Presents Leadership Award to Dr. David Kimbrough

ACWA presented the 2019 Excellence in Water Leadership Award to Dr. David Kimbrough, Water Quality Manager at Pasadena Water and […]

County of Riverside commends EVMWD for Promoting Sustainable Practices

LAKE ELSINORE —Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District (EVMWD) was selected as the Riverside County Board of Supervisors’ 1st District recipient […]

Upper District and Cal American Tap into the Source

MONROVIA – May 3, the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (Upper District) held a ribbon cutting for two […]