Limiting bird strikes at airports with falconry and habitat management, copyright by the author, Frania Shelley-Grielen
The decision to end on an ongoing contract with Falcon Environmental Services Inc. supplying falconry to control gull traffic at JFK International Airport and replace it with shooters was reported in the April 29 edition of The Wall Street Journal. The Port Authority of NY and NJ, which operates the airport, is now in talks with the USDA to manage the gulls by shooting them. No bids were taken.
NYC’s largest international airport abuts one of NYC’s wilderness treasures: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, managed by the National Park Service. Once heavily polluted, the restoration of Jamaica Bay over the last 40 years has led to an increase in the viability and variety of the species of wildlife that lives there. The Fish and Wildlife Service calls the area a “significant habitat” and lists 48 species of fish and 120 species of birds, and notes among its features: “The extensive salt marsh and upland islands in the bay provide nesting habitat for gulls, terns, waterfowl, and herons; foraging and roosting habitat for shorebirds and waterbirds; upland sites for grassland bird nesting and foraging areas.”
A nesting colony of 15 pairs of the gulls was observed at Jamaica Bay in 1979, a response to the improved quality of the habitat. In 1990 there were 7,629 pairs of laughing gulls counted. With all those birds living next door to the airport there are sure to be conflicts.
Birds fly and so do planes. Flying is how birds find food, partners, flock mates, get around and gather information. When migrating, birds follow historical flyways, many of which may intersect a flight path at the next door neighbors’ place.
According to a 2003 report with the USDA as the lead author, 52% of bird strikes at JKF were laughing gulls. A “bird strike” is defined as a collision between an aircraft in motion and a bird. The birds are usually fatalities and the collision may cause damage to aircrafts and result in equipment failure and accidents. Airports are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to have bird management programs. Laughing gulls along with Canada geese are targeted species for animal control at area airports. These programs frequently employ bird scaring techniques such as pyrotechnics, sounds, habitat alteration, and the use of raptors to scare the birds off or marksmen to kill them.
Wildlife management programs in order to be effective need to be dynamic. Simply put, wildlife responds to the immediate conditions of the surrounding environment. Animals learn where to go to find the best and most food, shelter, mates, affiliates and to avoid danger. A dynamic wildlife management program recognizes the intelligence, lifestyle and responsiveness of a species. Birds avoiding raptors in an area will learn to stay away from the area and will keep flock mates and family members away from them. Birds shot dead can neither learn nor pass on information.
Scaring techniques need to be offered on an intermittent schedule so that the animals targeted cannot habituate or get used to them. Birds will learn to avoid a pyrotechnic display set off in the same location at the same time but only at the time it fires. Habit alteration should follow success stories; RAF airfields have lessened bird numbers by 60% by keeping the grass at the airfields long rather than mowed. Multiple bird species will not prey or rest in long grasses. Not offering so many free meals will also help matters; studies show that runways often contain edible debris that attracts birds.
A transportation research study published in 2011 suggested a dynamic wildlife management technique incorporating falconry supplemented by long grass policy and debris free access and taxiways to be the most effective methods to deter birds from airports. The 2003 case study with the USDA as the lead author indicated that the “2000 and 2002 data showed a major decline in strikes of laughing gulls,” a period highlighted by the falconer program in operation.
Science, behavior and a wildlife refuge full of birds offer JFK other more effective options than guns for managing wildlife populations.
Gulls like this one have established colonies at Jamaica Bay where plans are in place to shoot them (photo copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen).
"Wildlife management programs in order to be effective need to be dynamic. Simply put, wildlife responds to the immediate conditions of the surrounding environment. Animals learn where to go to find the best and most food, shelter, mates, affiliates and to avoid danger. A dynamic wildlife management program recognizes the intelligence, lifestyle and responsiveness of a species"
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