Cherry Hawks

Posted by Jeff Pauls on 23rd Jun 2020

Cherry Hawks

Are there really cherry hawks? You may have heard of chicken hawks. A term associated with “three species of North American hawks -- the Cooper's Hawk, the Sharp-shinned Hawk or the Red-tailed Hawk.” While this term is a bit of a misnomer (chickens only comprise a small part of their diets) it certainly invokes a certain mystique or sense of dread.

Sorry, I went on a tanager, I mean a tangent there. Did I answer my question? No, there are no such things as cherry hawks, but the idea certainly is similar. Hawks are scary and along with other raptors, can play an important role in orchard management. They're part of the holistic approach Clair Kauffman uses to care for our orchards. Along with integrated pest management, soil management, pruning and planting strategies, this effort is just another example of what an earth oriented orchard system is all about.

While protecting an orchard harvest is always important, if yield has been affected by weather events, all the other variables' level of importance increases. It reveals the complexity and integrated nature that challenges the orchardist. To ensure that each piece of fruit represents the essence of a cherry, an apple, a peach, or a plum, managing these interacting systems is crucial. And when, because of all this work, someone bites into a piece of fruit and it meets or exceeds their expectations, it makes it all worth it. it’s pure joy. It’s a gift.

Right now, our efforts are focused on our cherries. The late frosts decreased the size of the harvest this year. The good news is that the cherries are really good. The robins and blackbirds think so as well. But they will think twice about eating them if they know there are hawks or other raptors about. Clair has taken a number of steps to create a welcome habitat for these birds of prey. Chief among these efforts are the installation and maintenance of nesting boxes and raptor perches. While hawks benefit from the perches, spotting smaller birds that threaten the fruit harvest, other species must also be managed. Rodents being one. A barn owl family, housed in one of our nesting boxes, is capable of catching 15-20 voles a night. This activity helps to further balance the orchard ecosystem.

Increased awareness of how an orchard fits into a larger ecosystem has a whole host of benefits, one of which is the delicious fruit we can make available to our neighbors far and wide. Taking the stewardship of the earth seriously is ultimately an accumulation of a lot of small efforts and decisions that comprise a larger plan--all with the goal of working with the natural systems of nature. And while there is no such thing as a “cherry hawk,” give a shout out to hawks as you thank your host for that cherry pie alamode at your next summer picnic. Every food we eat has a much more interesting story than we could ever imagine.

A further update from Clair just as this post was going to press:

"Dan Mummert and some of his coworkers from the PA Game Commission were here on Friday (6/19) to inspect our barn owl and American kestrel boxes. They were able to band both barn owl and kestrel nestlings. We were not able to invite the public to these bandings, but they filmed the process and will have a live webinar next Tuesday with the footage they took in our orchard! The link for the webinar is below. Both species had an unusually successful nesting season in our orchard. Considering the fact that both species are in decline in PA, it is exciting to see them thriving in our orchard!"