He is president of Hot Foot America, inventor of the WINnovation Award winning Fright Kite, and has worked with bird control for decades excluding birds from crush pads, tasting rooms, barns, window ledges and other commercial structures. However, says Roger Snow: “In the wine industry people always said, ‘what do you have to keep the birds out of the vineyards?’” Now he has an answer.
The company has a history and culture of innovation starting 40 years ago with the development and patenting of the Hot Foot bird repellent gel and continuing with sprays, shock tracks, and netting systems to prevent bird damage.
The idea for the Falcon Crop Protection’s Fright Kite first occurred to Snow after speaking with a falconeer and seeing how effective the natural predators were. However, he also noted the high cost and the return of pest birds after the imminent threat had disappeared.
“When those falcons came out, the birds just disappeared,” says Snow. “So that was the spark that ignited my thinking, maybe you can put up something that looks close enough to the real thing, something that you can leave out there to scare the pest birds.”
Snow and his team started a research and development program with the objective of bringing this product to market and testing it for effectiveness. Having never worked with kites before, they found a small local manufacturer with a good business record, who also had experience producing helikites for military use.
“We told him what we were looking for, and he was willing to work with us.” says Snow. “Our goal was to create something that would scare the birds, that would stay up there all the time, so you wouldn’t have to go out there every day and mess around with it, and something that would be affordable and work.”
They started experimenting and testing a helikite, which is a helium filled balloon, but it was problematic. Because helium changes density with air temperature, the helikite would fly really well during the day, but then in the afternoon the temperature would drop and the balloon would shrink and sink down and get stuck between the vines.
“The next morning the balloon would fill up again, but of course the flight line would be tangled up in all the vines, and you’d have to run out and clear it; no one wanted to do that,” Snow explains. “Experimenting with helium was a good idea, but it fell flat. That left kites as the only option to get something up there.
“From my days as a kid I remember we used to fly box kites, which were really good for stability. So we wanted to get a combination of the box kite and the delta kite that would go up in the air very easily in a light wind, but dash around to mimic the movements of the falcon. We ruined a few before we finally came up with something that worked.”
To get the kite high up high in the air and make it visible to birds from a long distance, they attached 35 feet of flight line to a 42 foot telescoping aluminum pole getting the kite up to approximately 70 feet in the air. To create the appearance of a pack of falcons hunting together they placed a shorter pole in the vineyard with a kite hovering closer to the vines, imitating a falcon ready to swoop.
The pole system is easily moved from vineyard to vineyard by just one person, so the kite is able to follow varietals that are ripening at different times. The kite has the ability to self-launch with as little as 2mph wind and withstand up to 35mph withstanding field conditions and requires virtually no maintenance.
“There’s still a bit of work to be done on the poles, and once we’ve finished that, we hope to apply for a patent,” says Snow, “but what we’ve got is certainly good enough to give us the results and know that the system works.”
Over the course of the entire 2016 growing season field trials were run at five different vineyards ranging from Paso Robles to Healdsburg and in size from 2 to 50 acres. At the end of the harvest the results were astounding. In almost every case there was absolutely minimal damage to grapes, and 95%-100% of pest birds were repelled.
“The kite has a shape and color that pest birds recognize from the Peregrine Falcon; it darts and dives in a random pattern just like a real hunting falcon and even has wing movements like a real bird,” says Snow. “We call it the Fright Kite, because it gives the birds a hell of a fright.”
By Kim Badenfort