Frequent falcon flights to prevent problem pigeons

The eagle-eyed may have already noticed a new bird on campus. The University of Canterbury will fly a native New Zealand falcon (kārearea) above its Ilam campus to naturally deter pest birds, the first time a university has adopted such a tactic.

Marlborough Falcon Trust handlers Vikki Smith and Rob Lawry have recently begun free-flying a specially bred one-year-old kārearea – as featured on the $20 banknote – to help reduce UC’s pigeon population. Tappe, named for Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku, was bred by the Trust from injured captive falcons unable to survive in the wild.


 Tappe as a young adult. This photo was taken outside during the early stages of Tappe’s training.

UC students and staff will be treated to regular falcon-flying displays as Tappe patrols his territory. Seeing a kārearea flying regularly at UC will also be an opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of the rare New Zealand falcon.

There has already been a lot of interest in the first visits to campus as Tappe acclimatises to his new territory at UC.

Here are some simple guidelines if you happen to see Tappe up close on campus:

  • Curiosity about the kārearea and his falconer is natural and you are welcome to take photos.
  • Please be aware that the falconer may not always be able to engage and answer your questions about what he or she is doing. He or she needs to concentrate on where Tappe is and what the bird is doing.
  • Do not try to touch the falcon.
  • Try to minimise any disturbance to Tappe and his trainer.
  • Please try not to walk behind the falcon. If a person is in his blind spot, the falcon may become stressed.

While Tappe was raised by humans in captivity, he is not a pet. Tappe is an advocacy bird, trained by the Marlborough Falcon Trust to demonstrate what falcons can do. It is not legal to have native falcons as pets in New Zealand.

Tappe has been trained to complete territorial flights around the campus to scare flocks of pigeons from the University’s buildings and away from the campus.

UC is taking this positive action to address the problematic presence of large numbers of pigeons in a natural way that also supports a rare and endangered native bird species.

Kārearea are rare, with only an estimated 6000 birds left. Their habit of sitting on high perches looking for prey makes them difficult to spot in the wild, and there are very few places in New Zealand that display native falcons.

Kārearea are one of New Zealand’s most spectacular native birds, extremely fast and agile. Prior to human arrival in New Zealand, almost all of their natural diet was birds. The presence of birds such as kārearea scares potential prey birds and they leave the area.

Birds of prey are used around the world for bird control, particularly around airports. These birds are trained to fly to a lure, rather than capture birds. This predator-prey relationship is a natural way of discouraging the presence of unwanted birds.

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