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Falcons for Grapes

The New Zealand falcon or kārearea is the only remaining bird of prey endemic to New Zealand.

PorkytheBlindRivervineyardfalcon The New Zealand falcon is mainly found in heavy bush and the steep high country in the South Island and is rarely seen north of a line through the central area of the North Island.

It differs from the much larger swamp harrier, (or kāhu), which is common throughout New Zealand, in that it catches other birds on the wing, and seldom eats carrion. An aggressive bird that displays great violence when defending its territory, the New Zealand falcon has been reported to attack dogs as well as people.

With a wingspan of about 45 cm and weight rarely exceeding 450g, the New Zealand falcon is slightly over half the size of the swamp harrier, which it usually attacks on sight. The male is about two thirds the weight of the female.

The New Zealand falcon usually nests in a scrape in grassy soil or humus in various locations: under a rock on a steep slope or on a rock ledge, among epiphytic plants on a tree branch, or under a log or branch on the ground, making the two or three eggs that they lay vulnerable to predators such as stray cats, stoats, weasels, possum, and wild dogs.

In 2005, funding was given by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry towards a programme that uses the falcons to control birds that damage grapes and act as pests in vineyards.

The programme was also used to monitor the birds and establish a breeding population in the vicinity of the Marlborough wine region.

Initially, four falcons were relocated to the vineyards from the surrounding hills. After the release of a further 15 birds breeding began to occur - the first time it is thought to have happened since land clearance 150 years ago.