Limiting bird
strikes at
Limiting bird strikes at airports with falconry and
habitat management
copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen.  All rights reserved.

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 2011 in
The Wall
Street Journa
l. 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 water birds; 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.

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"Simply put, wildlife
responds to the immediate
conditions of the surround-
ing environment.  Animals
learn where to go to find
the best and most food,
shelter, mates, affiliates
and to avoid danger. A
dynamic wildlife manage-
ment program recognizes
the intelligence, lifestyle
and responsiveness of a
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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