Visitors to Granville Island’s popular public market may not know it, but a hired worker watches their lunch like a hawk to save it from thieving seagulls.
Last week, Poki was on duty, a five-pound specter whose beady-eyed presence is enough to thwart the seagulls known to startle a hungry luncheon visitor into dropping a hot basket of chips or a slice of pizza from their to shake hands.
Poki is one of two fierce-looking Harris’s Hawks – the other is called Goose – that parade through the food areas of the market every day during the busy lunchtime during the summer letting the gulls know they could be dead flesh if they dive for that one. donut from Lee’s.
Before he and his Pacific Northwest Raptors escort, Will De Haven, arrived around noon last week, at least two seagulls scouted over the patio outside the food market, buzzed some tables and flew wide over the picnic areas. One of the seagulls soared and got ready to dive into a takeout table before stopping abruptly and flying away.
On the pier near the old Bridges restaurant, visiting Austrians Manfred Sampl and his girlfriend Maria Loecker ducked when a seagull buzzed their heads. Minutes earlier, Sampl was robbed of his slice of cheese pizza.
“I wanted to put it in my mouth and he took it and flew away,” said a surprised and amused Sampl.
When Poki arrived, the air grew still.
“If they know he’s around, they’re very alert,” said De Haven, who walks for three or four hours with Poki on the ground and strapped to his heavy leather hawking glove. “They go from looking for chips to looking for him.”
The Raptors were hired by Granville Island a few years ago for “gull control,” De Haven said.
The market was looking for a humane way to deal with aggressive seagulls that had become accustomed to raiding the open compost bins next to the market. When the containers were moved and sealed, the gulls became “very aggressive with any food source,” said Cate Simpson, a spokeswoman for Granville Island.
The Raptors helped contain the nuisance and were unobtrusive.
“Many of our visitors don’t even realize they’re there,” she said.
The main purpose is to scare the luncheon scavengers, but the attendants are also engaged in educating visitors about birds of prey for the Raptors (who regularly put on bird-of-prey shows with trained raptors on their property in Duncan, BC).
“There is some entertainment value,” said De Haven. He and the other workers turning in the plow can’t take 10 or 15 steps without someone approaching to take selfies and ask about the hawk.
A Harris’s Hawk, native to the southwestern US, has black, dark brown, and white plumage, orange-yellow feet, and a yellow hooked bill. They are “excellent birds for falconry” because they are sociable and small in size, De Haven said.
He said using hawks is a natural control method, compared to poisoning or shooting pests. And it helps the gulls, who should instead feast on fish from the ocean, he said.
Poki lacks the hunting instinct and is more interested in the cut up chicks and quails that De Haven keeps in his fanny pack as a treat to lure Poki back to his hunting glove after he’s unclipped and flew away for a while.
Poki and Goose are also chosen for food because as males they are too small to hunt the larger gulls. The larger female hawks are the ones more likely to kill a gull, and they’re left to other tasks the Raptors take on, De Haven said.
The company is also hired by downtown skyscrapers to scare the seagulls away from nesting on their buildings, the Vancouver airport to prevent flocks of snow geese and other birds from disrupting operations, and waste stations to save thousands of seagulls. chasing those chasing the garbage dumps. † In those locations, the predators are allowed to occasionally and legally hunt and kill prey.
“They are predators,” said De Haven. “They will catch and eat a seagull if we let them.”
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