When Dave Hildreth and his Republic Services team take buses of teenagers on tours of the Arlington landfill, their visit is largely focused on how the facility processes 4,500 tons of waste every day. But their ears perk up when they hear about falcons patrolling the skies.
“Everybody is more fascinated by the birds than they are with the other parts of the landfill,” Hildreth said.
Republic is responsible for operating the 774-acre property at 800 Mosier Valley Road in Euless, adjacent to the master-planned Viridian community in northwest Arlington. During the winter months, migrating seagulls often crowd around the waste piles and surrounding communities as they migrate between the Gulf Coast and Canada.
That’s where Roger Crandall and his company, Fal-Tech Inc., come in. Since 2013, Crandall has used his peregrine falcons – what he calls “the fastest-living creatures on Earth” with diving speeds of over 200 miles per hour – to ward away the gulls.
The birds can cause major issues for truck operators dropping off waste and using 125,000-pound compactors to push the trash into as small a space as possible.
With about 850 trucks coming and going from the landfill on a daily basis, dodging flocks of gulls looking for a snack can become hazardous, said Clint Dickerson, a general manager for Republic Services.
“Before Roger got here, we had times where it was so bad, operators couldn’t hardly even see out of the machines because there were so many birds flying around,” Dickerson said. “It was just solid seagulls.”
Crandall, a master falconer since the age of 16, provides bird control services to Arlington, as well as Fort Worth’s southeast landfill. His business has also helped shopping centers and the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport deter grackles and other nuisance birds from roosting in their buildings.
Because landfills can draw larger numbers of gulls to the area, the birds are also a nuisance to the communities that surround the site, Hildreth said. Crandall’s falcons, including a pair named Jasmine and Thumper, are hired to ensure the gulls don’t stick around for long.
The gull invasion is at its peak between mid-October and the early spring months, Crandall said. By mid-April, most of the gulls are already well on their way from the Gulf Coast to Canada for mating season.
At least 1,000 stragglers lingered around a massive trash pile on a windy April morning. Crandall launched a falcon into the sky, sending large numbers of gulls packing.
“Anywhere where falcons and gulls’ habitats overlap, gulls show up on the menu,” Crandall said. “There’s just a deep-seated fear that goes way, way back in their DNA, and they’re just very sensitive to the shape of a large falcon. They know that’s danger, and they just want to leave the area.”
But the falcons are not hunting gulls, Crandall added. The birds get all the food they need from him. Their only job is to soar through the sky and push the flock to keep moving.
“Whenever a seagull sees one of these birds flying around, they know the difference between this and a red-tailed hawk and some of the other common species around here,” he said. “They know that a redtail doesn’t pose any threat, but they’re really, really afraid of these things.”
Crandall said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of his contract with Arlington and Republic Services because of a confidentiality agreement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been known to charge upward of $140,000 to keep the gulls off of landfills, he said, and Fal-Tech’s yearly rate is about half of that price tag.
There are other ways to control birds, Hildreth said. Other cities have used fireworks and pyrotechnics to scare the gulls away, or even used bird baits to poison gulls.
“You could sit out here and pop screamers and firecrackers all day long to chase the birds away, but it drives the neighbors nuts,” Hildreth said. “Those methods are just not as effective and not nearly as humane as this … We look for methods that work in an urban landfill.”
The Arlington landfill’s location near River Legacy Park and Lake Viridian were also concerns in going the falcon route. Plus, Fal-Tech’s daily monitoring of the site has proven effective in reducing the visual issues truck operators were experiencing, Hildreth said.
Using falcons for commercial work, as Crandall does at landfills, wasn’t always an easy option. Before 2007, falconers had to obtain U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits for every specific project where they sought to earn money for bird abatement, or the practice of warding away nuisance birds with falcons.
Crandall worked with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to push the federal agency to issue a more general permit for falconers who wanted to practice bird abatement commercially. Crandall was the first to obtain the new special purpose permit in late 2007.
Since then, hundreds of the permits have been issued to master falconers, he said, and the industry continues to grow.
“It’s an amazing thing to be able to utilize this kind of bird control,” Crandall said. “It’s not always the answer. In fact, frequently it’s not the answer. But there are some situations where it’s just a perfect fit in terms of being environmentally sound.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.