Airports Search for Ways to Reduce Bird Strikes

By Brenda Flanagan

Surveillance cameras caught Flight 1549’s dramatic splash-down into the Hudson. Everyone aboard survived the miraculous landing — after Canada geese got sucked into both of the jet’s engines.

“We took off, and the left engine blew about three minutes into the flight,” explained one passenger.

“Bird strikes that’ve brought planes down in the Hudson River. I don’t think it was on the public’s radar and that was an incident that brought a lot of attention to the situation,” said David Mizrahi of NJ Audubon.

Mizrahi says many airports sit in the midst of wetlands — that’s prime bird habitat. Although most aircraft survive airstrikes without ditching or much damage, hits occur with alarming frequency at Port Authority airports. The agency tried scaring birds away with big bangs like stun grenades.

Trapping, relocating — nothing worked. Then the Port Authority hired people to shoot animals. At Newark and Teterboro airports, they killed 10 animals in 2008; 1,200 in 2010. The current kill count — almost 6,000, most of them birds, according to a Star-Ledger analysis of Port Authority data.

“You don’t like to see animals being shot and killed. I think there are some alternatives. I think you have to take a multi-faceted approach to how you manage unwanted wildlife on airfields,” Mizrahi said.

If you ask people to choose between getting rid of geese and risking the flying public’s safety, the geese lose, inevitably. The trick is finding a non-lethal alternative.

Elvie’s whip-smart and utterly devoted to clearing out the geese. She’s a member of Dave Macks’ Geese Police — border collies trained to clear parks, playgrounds and areas around airports. Macks also serves on the U.S.-Canadian Bird Strike Committee.

“A jet plane is only designed to take an eight-pound hit. And the average goose is 12 to 14 pounds. So it’d only take one goose to bring down a plane,” Macks said.

He says scaring birds aloft in areas around airports requires complete coordination with the control tower to avoid take-offs and landings.

“McGuire AFB, Dover AFB where you have complete control with the control tower that tells you when the next plane is coming. OK, put it up,” said Macks.

In a statement, the Port Authority says, “Last year approximately 95 percent of wildlife mitigation efforts at the agency’s airports involved non-lethal measures. Non-lethal means are employed where possible to keep wildlife from endangering the lives of passengers and crews. The use of border collies is not practical at the PA airports because using the dogs is labor intensive, expensive and difficult to use.”

Macks says Elvie costs a lot less.