A surprising variety of birds find that airports present them with an attractive habitat.

Unfortunately, the number of birds causing incidents during aircraft take offs, flights and landing procedures has increased significantly over the last couple of decades. To combat the delays, potential risks to passengers, crew and the birds, innovative measures are constantly being trialled around the world.

Picture of Airport Bird Control

Do you remember the Tom Hanks film about US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger who landed his plane in the Hudson in 2009 after geese downed the aircraft? This real-life incident led to a significant increase in the number of bird strikes being reported stateside.

  • As reported by the BBC, in the US, emergency landings caused by an aircraft and bird collision are reaching record levels, a weekly occurrence. According to a report by the Federal Aviation Administration, the volume of bird strikes increased by almost six times between 1990 and 2012, peaking at 10,343. Worldwide statistics revealed that between 1988-2012 wildlife strikes killed more than 250 people and destroyed approximately 229 aircraft. (Source:FAA.)

Charlie Hilbrant teaches student pilots in Chicago, “We always tell the students to aviate, navigate and communicate. That means fly the plane, figure out where you have to go and tell the tower what you need to do.”

Successful bird control measures which humanely disperse the birds and continual improvements in aircraft design has decreased the amount of damage in and around airports.

This list shows 10 global initiatives which are planned or employed already

  1. Bird distress signals are effective airport bird proofing tools. Speakers are mounted on a vehicle and they emit the distress calls of up to 20 different species. Operation is via a tablet style device within the vehicle. Scarecrow provides systems to most of the British airports. Different species react to different things and expert airport bird proofing teams have learned that a bird control vehicle coming in to their view is enough to encourage birds to take flight.
  2. Every US airport, and many around the world, uses pyrotechnics, from sparks to explosions, to move feathered friends out of the area. Michael Begier, national co-ordinator of the airport wildlife hazards programme at the US Department of Agriculture: “The flash, bang kind of stuff immediately gets their attention and pushes them away.”
  3. Another approach which Begier is interested in is of increasing visibility using the lights installed on aircraft. Manipulation of the lights, varying wavelengths and pulses in the electromagnetic spectrum, tailored to specific species can provide an early warning system so the birds can flee. Some of the light changes can be invisible to humans.
  4. The Dutch air force is using small mobile bird detecting radar. They are unable to identify species but technological advancement could deliver results. Radar could be rolled out to civil aviation sites.
  5. A chicken gun is utilised to test the durability of aircraft engines and windscreens. This comprises of a thawed chicken being fired from a compressed air gun. This simulates the effect of a bird hitting the aeroplane.
  6. Removing vegetation from airport spaces also removes a food source for the birds and makes them less likely to settle in the area. Insects and grubs in grass entice rodents which attracts birdlife. Salt Lake City airport bird control specialists took the measure of replacing 70 acres of grass with ground asphalt. In Ohio, they have been trialling different grasses to see which are less attractive for the problem Canada geese there.
  7. In Salt Lake City, an airport which suffers several bird infestations and inspires bird control innovations, a troublesome population of Canada geese made their nests between the two airport runways. The bird control specialists on site adopted egg-addling as a deterrent. The goose is scared from the nest and the eggs are addled or oiled individually, by shaking them or submerging them in vegetable oil. The goose returns, sit on the eggs but they never hatch successfully. The birds are no longer resident at the airport.
  8. Pigs have been used to disrupt the habitat of approximately 15 California gulls that flew twice daily over Salt Lake City airport. The airport bird controllers came up with the idea of using pigs to trample or eat the gulls eggs. They use the pigs each spring to deter new infestations.
  9. Again, in challenged Salt Lake City, up to 500 raptors are trapped and relocated each year by airport bird proofing teams. Species include hawks, barn owls and falcons. Some noose traps use a rodent to entice the bird and restrains their feet. Others are self-operating, built on top of pigeon coops, the birds fly in, the door closes, and they are trapped.
  10. Sky, a border collie, has been happily at work at Fort Myers in Florida for several years. Sky chases the birds and there has been a substantial decrease in bird strikes. Some birds can grow accustomed to pyrotechnics, but to all birds the presence of a natural threat, dog or a bird of prey in a hawking programme, remains relevant and their survival instinct is triggered.

While these innovations are experimented with and modified, you can enjoy confidence that today’s methods offer considerable assistance in airport bird proofing.

Hawking using live trained hawks which are perceived as predatory by other birds, with flight schedules and effective management by professionals, is the normal method employed.

Hawking is often used in conjunction with bio-acoustics, replaying birds distress calls, and the approach delivers comprehensive and cost-effective bird infestation dispersal results.

Southampton Airport has recently trialled a measure which is proving to be successful and could be rolled out to other commercial airports. A realistic hawk-like advanced drone called Robird is operated from the ground to mimic the activities of a live predator. The other birds are scared away from the aircraft which makes runways and aviation safer.

Progress could allow the future of hawking to give the real hawks a well-earned rest.

Please contact the specialists at Apex Environmental Services today to learn more about hawking and airport bird proofing measures.