Drama in the Blueberry Patch

Young Blueberry Plants Under Netting

My son Rob and his family live in the Skagit Valley on a former farm. They have fruit trees, grapes, raspberries, and a wonderfully productive patch of sixty-year old blueberry bushes. With all this bounty ripe for the snatching, their farm is a great attraction for the many kinds of birds that call the Skagit home. That’s why the blueberry bushes are sheltered by fine black netting, like in the photo above. But Rob’s bushes are so large they touch the netting. That means robins and starlings can perch on top of some bushes and pluck the berries right through the netting.

That led to one of nature’s dramas recently. A robin must have caught a foot in the netting. His struggle attracted the attention of one of the abundant raptors that cruise the farm fields surrounding Mt. Vernon…a peregrine falcon. These falcons have long been trained to the hunt in the ancient sport of falconry. Females are larger than the males, with a wingspan of three feet or more. Falcons prey on medium-sized birds, often catching them in mid-air following a spectacular dive, or “stoop.” Their dive speeds of more than 200 miles per hour make the peregrine falcon the world’s fastest living creature. Such an impact is devastating to the prey. In this case, it nearly caused disaster to the bird of prey, as well.

    When the falcon hit the robin, she also became entangled in the net. Rob walked by in time to notice what had happened. By then, the bird had pulled the netting to the ground, but it had wrapped several times around one leg. She was trapped.

    Armed with a stick to prevent the falcon’s sharp beak from snapping shut on his hands and his jackknife to cut the net, Rob approached the struggling bird.

“Nice bird. Are you going to let me help you? Don’t bite me. Just sit still and I’ll cut the net away.” Rob kept up his gentle talking while slowly unwrapping the tangled netting. The bird snapped a time or two, then seemed to realize that help had come. She stopped struggling and watched. Finally he cut through the layers. The falcon screeched and flew to the nearby cherry tree, where she tugged at the bits of cord still wrapped around her leg. Rob could see that she’d be able to get it all off, but she didn’t wait to finish the job. With a last look at her benefactor, she soared off to the safety of the open fields.

Peregrine Falcon at Lunch

    It was then that Rob found the robin, killed instantly by the power of the peregrine falcon’s blow. He rolled up the netting so the birds could harvest the rest of the crop unimperiled by man-made hazards.