One of the most recognizable birds at Chino Farm is the Great Blue Heron who has taken up permanent residency on the farm. Some feel the heron might be a reincarnation of a Chino family member who is there to watch over the farm. After observing this stoic and graceful bird for the past year, this isn't something I would easily dismiss. I would take it a step further and say that this bird isn't just watching over the farm, it’s there to help. It has been known to walk alongside the tractor to scoop up and eat troublesome rodents like pocket gophers who are hiding out in the field in search of a free meal. For the Chino family, the heron's contribution to the pest control efforts is a reminder of the interdependence of humans and birds on the farm.
Birds and farmers have had a long and complex relationship. On one hand, the birds eat slugs and other bugs that can destroy crops. On the other hand, they also love eating some of the same delicious things we do. There is no simple answer on how to deal with birds on a farm. What we do know is that it’s a lot easier to work with nature than to try to fight it.
When a farmer is evaluating their pest control options, it would be wrong to count out birds. As Nick Thorpe, Philanthropy Coordinator at San Diego Audubon Society puts it, “Birds work for free, 24/7,” with owls taking the night shift. A study by Humboldt State University found that a pair of Barn Owls with chicks can consume up to 1,000 rodents in the 10 weeks before the chicks fledge from the nest box.
Chino Farm's unique and diverse crop mix includes everything from their famous Mara de Bois strawberries and corn to cardoons and fava beans. Naturally, these crops attract everyone from humans, animals, birds, and bugs regularly stopping by to check out what’s in season. Instead of trying to fight it, the family has fostered an environment that encourages nature to keep everything in balance.
In addition to their owl boxes, they also intentionally do not cut back the wild mustard, nasturtium, and native plants on the edges of the field which provide cover for small birds like Sparrows, California Towhees, and Mourning Doves who eat slugs and other pests that can ruin crops. The songbird population is kept in check by a healthy population of raptors including Red-tailed Hawks, Barn Owls, and Peregrine Falcons. Thanks to this natural approach, everyone eats well at Chino Farm.