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Falcons used to disrupt bird strikes

January 23, 2009 4:18:24 PM PST
How can airports stay protected from flocks of birds?Wildlife technician Richard Brown is on the airfield at McGuire Air Force base releasing Salvin, one of 10 falcons who patrol the skies over the base each day.

Natural predators, the falcons chase away nuisance birds near the runways that might collide with cargo planes and refuelers and create a potentially catastrophic event.

"They're very crucial. They keep the large predator, the larger birds away from the airfield and reduce our strikes with the aircraft," Chief of Safety Tom Diveley.

The falcons are part of a program called BASH--Bird Air Strike Hazard. Since 1998 a private company has been providing the falcons, who patrol the airstrip at regular intervals everyday.

"If you see gulls coming and there's a falcon in the air they're going to change their flight trajectory and go around the airfield," Richard Brown of Falcon Environmental Services said.

The falcons are a key feature of McGuire's integrated wildlife management program that also restricts takeoffs and landings during migration season and uses pyrotechnics to scare birds away with noise.

"The birds overtime will get accustomed to that, but with the falcons the birds see that as their natural prey and they never get used to the falcons," Captain Mike McCartney, Chief of Flight Safety, said.

Over the years, bird strikes with military aircraft have caused fatalities, hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, and crashes like the one in New York last week.

McGuire officials won't give exact numbers, but say when the falcons began patrolling, the number of bird strikes plummeted 80-percent and remains low today.

After 15 minutes or so the falcons are called in with a shout and the promise of a treat. It's not hi-tech, but these birds are definitely getting the job done.

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