Monday, April 27, 2009

Using birds to keep birds away

Wildlife biologists trying to reduce bird strikes on aircraft are getting a little help from the birds.
Biologists working at Portland Airport figured out that red-tailed hawks who lived near the airport learned to avoid planes -- and their presence kept away wandering birds with no such sense of the hazard. So, while they transported away wanderers, they kept the local birds in place, says this story in the KGW Raptor Cam blog.
Sea-Tac Airport does something similar. It relies the services of the Falcon Research Group to capture any hawks that stray into the area, and move them to safer hunting grounds. In the past seven years, the Falcon Research Group has moved more than 200 birds, it reports in its most recent newsletter (Scroll down to the sixth news item.) But it leaves the resident red-tails in place.
"As an example of how this works, we have two wing-tagged red-tails (B and C) that have lived successfully at the airport for over 7 years, one even nesting under the approach lights," the letter reports.
This is a small piece of a wide-ranging effort to stop bird strikes, an effort that costs $250,000 a year. Staff track the birds on special radar, scare them with lasers and explosives, cover nearby bodies of water with netting and plant grass laced with bad-tasting fungus. On Friday, Sea-Tac airport released its assessment of bird strikes: 105 reported in 2008, a year that saw about 350,000 takeoffs and landings at the airport, says this blog post in the Tacoma News Tribune. Birds hit ranged from a wren to a bald eagle.

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