Falconer Keeps Gulls Under Control at San Francisco Dump

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Katrina Schwartz/KQED

Indigo Redondo prepares to send Nina, a Harris hawk, up into the skies above Recology's transfer station to scare away hundreds of seagulls looking for an easy meal.

Residents of San Francisco may not realize it, but seagulls that cruise the coast have become a big problem for managers of the city's garbage. Recology, the company that handles the city's trash, relies on a falconer and his birds-of-prey to scare away gulls at the waste transfer station in San Francisco's southeast corner.

Indigo Redondo, the resident falconer for Recology in San Francisco, is fastening a locator to Nina, a Harris hawk. She's one of five birds -- both hawks and falcons -- that make up Redondo's "crew" with the help of his dog Raine. Together they work to keep hundreds of swirling seagulls from distracting truck operators and blanketing the neighborhood with bird poop.
"The thing is to control the seagull population early in the morning when they do decide to come over here," explained Redondo. "If you can keep 'em back early in the morning and don't let them settle in and stage, then you have a little more control over their habits."
Redondo's birds never hurt the gulls, which are federally protected. Instead, the goal is to keep them moving, uncomfortable and using up energy until they get discouraged and look for food elsewhere.
"I weigh my birds every day so I keep them at a certain weight and I know when they are well fed," Redondo said. "If they're well fed then they'll still respond to my commands and signals, but they won't harm the birds."
Before falconry came on the scene, waste managers often used mechanical scare devices, reflective streamers and netting to keep gulls out of the trash. Now, predator birds are gaining popularity in the industry as a natural solution to a long-standing pest problem.
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