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Red-tails at Portland International Airport

by Bob Sallinger

kgw.com

Posted on April 26, 2009 at 10:55 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

A little side note about Red-tails elsewhere in our city today. There has been a lot of publicity over the past couple of days about birds being hit by airplanes. On Thursday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released data about bird strikes at airports which showed that the number of airport bird strike incidents had increased since 2000. As is usually the case with statistics, they only tell part of the story. Perhaps most notably, most of the media stories failed to note that the FAA and airports across the nation have placed a much greater emphasis on getting airlines, pilots and ground crews to actually report bird strikes over the past decade---a significant portion of the "increase" is due to better reporting rather than actually change in the incidence rate. A decade ago many airports did not even have functional reporting programs in place.

I have served on the Portland International Airport Wildlife Advisory Committee since 1996 and Portland's airport actually has an outstanding and very innovative program for reducing the risk of wildlife strikes at PDX. Many airports across the United States simply resort to lethal control. Staggering numbers of wild birds and animals are killed every year at airports in the name of air traffic safety. At one point there was actually a proposal put forward at PDX by the US Department of Agriculture to shoot every red-tailed hawk within 10,000 feet of the runways---a proposal which if implemented would have resulted in the deaths of several nesting pairs and and dozens of migratory and transient hawks every year. Our airport deserves great credit for its groundbreaking research into red-tails and air traffic safety. It discovered that the resident nesting pairs not only avoid aircraft (they are familiar with the hazard) but they also keep other red-tails out of their territories. If they had killed the local pairs, as advised, they would have opened up the territories and allowed new red-tails to move into the area that are unfamiliar with airplanes and more prone to being struck by aircraft. In other words killing local nesting pairs around the airport would have actually increased the hazards to aircraft. Instead, PDX now has instituted a program of closely monitoring its local nesting red-tailed hawk population while leaving them in place and hiring a raptor biologist to trap and relocate transient hawks that are discovered hanging out near the airfield. This is one of several innovative strategies that have been pioneered at PDX that both increase air traffic safety while still protecting and respecting local wildlife populations. Many airports across the United States are emulating PDXs red-tailed hawk management strategy.

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