Essentially this is a bit of an environmentally friendly, technically non-lethal way for the stadium pitch to be kept clear of pigeons, who are the biggest obstruction when it comes to grass seeding.
Approximately 120 kg of perennial rye seed, an all-year grass cultivar, is planted monthly on the stadium pitch to repair the damage caused by sporting events and concerts. Pigeons cause the most destruction before the seeds start to germinate by consuming up to 70% of the planted seed. Consequently, the rye grass does not grow. The pigeon activity makes it difficult to keep the grass on the pitch dense – a requirement for top-quality sporting events.
The officially appointed falcon goes by the name of Scarlet, and she belongs to one Hank Chalmers, the owner of Eagle Encounters – the largest raptor rehabilitation center in Southern Africa. She was brought to the centre four years ago with a broken wing and foot after having been hit by a car. Her prospects were dire but after eight months of intense rehabilitation she was able to fly again. She will, however, never fly well enough again to hunt and survive in the wild.
Scarlet will be flown weekly at the stadium over the next six months (basically flying a lure-chase pattern created by a falconer standing in the middle of the pitch) to reinforce the presence of the predator. Thereafter, the frequency of the visits will be reduced to the level required to manage the pitch.
According to the experts, “This is a non-lethal programme. The aim is not to kill but to deter and to change the behaviour of the target species – in this case the presence of the falcon causes pigeons to adopt a new pattern of behaviour – away from the stadium. Unlike other bird-deterrent devices, the target species never becomes habituated to the presence of a live bird of prey.”
Nevertheless, I suspect there is going to be a lot of guano clean up at the stadium for the next couple of weeks, thanks to some very shit-scared pigeons flying around!