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  The Herman Trend Alert

June 12, 2019

Saving Owls and Other Birds

Bird strikes are a major issue for airports. Most strikes just result in material loss. However, some strikes cause aircraft to crash resulting in loss of life. The worst recorded incident took place October 4, 1960, when an Eastern Air Lines flight from Boston, flew through a flock of starlings during take-off, damaging all four engines. Shortly after take-off, the plane crashed into Boston harbor, shortly after take-off. Sixty-two of the 72 passengers passed away.

Saving Barn Owls in South San Francisco
Barn owls represent 13 percent of the bird strikes that occur at San Francisco Airport (SFO). To help with the problem, United Airlines brought its "raptor relocation" project to San Francisco---after successfully launching the project at Newark International Airport (EWR) in 2017. Now, United is preparing to save birds of prey that reside near its West Coast hub, SFO.

A partnership between Audubon International and United
In Newark, United partnered with Audubon International to successfully relocate 80 birds---mostly American kestrels, sometimes called sparrow hawks. At SFO, their joint relocation efforts will focus on barn owls.

Relocation to safer areas is the key
Though most bird strikes don't cause damage to airplanes, SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel told the San Francisco Chronicle, there have been 17 incidents at the airport to date this year. United's program will allocate team members to identify barn owls and other at-risk species that live near SFO's runways and flight paths. The birds captured near SFO will be relocated to safer places in other parts of northern California, like golf courses and botanical gardens.

A full-time biologist to help
SFO also employs a full-time biologist to give stakeholders information on migratory patterns plus other tactics to keep birds away from airplanes. These actions include placing netting and spikes to prevent nesting, introducing coyote decoys, reflective streamers, and sound-making devices to scare off birds. Audubon International believes that relocating birds of prey to golf courses is mutually beneficial. Golf course provide high vantage points with open views across the fairways and many nesting places for the birds; at the same time, the birds reduce the populations of rodents and insects.

Portland, Oregon has also addressed the issue
Near Portland's PDX there are fields popular with geese. The airport management put up 2-foot-tall "fences" of black plastic sheeting, running east-west through the fields. Researchers believe the geese won't land there because it hinders their vision.

Scientists are well on their way
While eliminating bird strikes altogether may be a long way off, researchers have implemented a number of tactics for saving these birds that are clearly working. These solutions demonstrate that innovation does not have to include expensive high technology.

Special thanks to AFAR Magazine for bringing this issue to our attention.


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