Visit the Johnson Ridge Inn and Estate Vineyard during the late summer into fall and you’ll be greeted with an inelegant soundtrack. “SQUAWK, SQUAWK, SQUAWK.” The audio recording called “Birds in Distress” is our method of keeping hungry wildlife at bay.
Walla Walla’s bird population is beloved by nature-enthusiasts, but is less appreciated by those of us who tend to vineyards. This region hosts a variety of resident birds, such as Song Sparrows, Bewicks Wrens, Downy Woodpeckers and Great Blue Herons. During the fall, though, the bird population skyrockets. This is because Walla Walla is smack in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, a migratory corridor that runs from Siberia to Patagonia. Most species of bird pass through Walla Walla between late summer and autumn. This means that Walla Walla is saturated with birds at the exact time that our grapes are particularly succulent.
House Finches, American Robins and European Starlings are especially likely to pose a threat. At the Johnson Ridge Estate Vineyard, we usually see perky Starlings. European Starlings are an invasive species that was introduced to the United States 1890. A wealthy Shakespeare-lover named Eugene Schieffelin released a flock of starlings in New York’s Central Park as a part of an ill-thought-out plan to introduce every bird mentioned by William Shakespeare into North America. By the 1940s, starlings were common in the Pacific Flyway. In Walla Walla, we see these migratory birds every year.
For obvious reasons, this migratory pattern can result in significant crop losses. (We don’t blame the birds; our grapes are pretty darn delicious!) In response, vineyard growers have been forced to come up with creative solutions to help reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides for wine grapes without sacrificing their crops. Some alternative methods of pest control, such as netting, can be costly and frustrating. It’s also quick to tear, difficult to store, and needs to be replaced every three years or so.
At the Johnson Ridge Vineyard, we project the distress calls of birds.
“Birds in Distress” is played during daylight hours and we have them powered by solar. When the birds hear the various distress calls, they feel threatened and avoid what they assume is a dangerous area. According to the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, broadcasting alarm and distress calls substantially reduces the percentage of crops that are lost to avian munchers.
Anecdotally, we can definitely say that we’ve seen an effect. Thanks to our bird distress-call recording, we’ve been able to keep birds away from the vineyard in the least intrusive, most humane way possible.
We’re pretty sure that this is cause for a toast!
Want to feel like you are at the vineyard with us? You can listen to a “Birds in Distress” audio recording here.