In 2010, UNESCO first added falconry to its list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’, calling it a ‘secular drama’. Since then, according to McNeff, the international falconry community has been careful to distinguish between falconry and reduction in order to protect the UNESCO-recognized version of the sport, which is in line with NAFA’s ethical policy; it states that falconry should “not include the keeping of birds of prey as pets or status items”. This is because in recent years, particularly in Europe, groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have criticized the use of raptors for “shows” or “demonstrations”. On its UK website, PETA states: “Falconers treat birds of prey, such as falcons, owls and eagles, as living props and display them to tourists. Tied to a block of wood with a short leather strap for hours or even days, their life is full of boredom and torment.
For gulls, however, Swanson’s current five hawks, 12 hawks, and eagle owl are much better than the typical alternative. In 2021 alone, the US Department of Agriculture killed 17,633 gulls in the name of wildlife control, along with 2,664 hawks, 510 falcons and 359 owls. “You come in here and knock out 20,000 gulls – well, that’s 20,000 less birds to clean the beach,” Swanson says. “Everything is here for a reason.” One of those reasons, argues Amanda Rodewald, an avian biologist at Cornell University, is the presence of people, whether we like it or not. “Relationships are complicated,” she says. “By removing one species, it can be difficult to predict what the consequences will be for others in that system – we don’t know which species will one day be useful to us.”
The use of Raptors to confuse pest birds appear to have been invented by the British military in the 1940s at an air base in Scotland, where peregrine falcons, whose diving speeds of nearly 200 mph make them the fastest animals in the world world, have been deployed to chase gulls from the tracks. Over the next few decades, the practice spread to clearing herring and ring-billed gulls from a Canadian dump, wood pigeons from an English field planted with cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and even Kremlin crows. Thomas L. Freeman, who holds the chair of math and science at Eastern New Mexico University-Ruidoso and studies diurnal raptors, told me that hawks and falcons are so effective because they are unpredictable. in a way that artificial deterrents cannot. “You can get scarecrows out and they work for a while,” he says. “But with birds of prey, the animals they’re chasing are going to perceive real danger, dynamic danger.”