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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Bird trouble

with 6 comments

Bird trouble

Airport staff scared two million birds (some were chased multiple times) away from the runways using pyrotechnics, sirens, lights, propane cannons, and two border collies, up from 1.6 million in 2005 and one million in 2002.

There is a significant absence from this list and one of the most effective ways of reducing the need to shoot birds. And we have known about this method for a long, long time.

Birds were a real problem at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park. Paxton’s magnificent Crystal Palace not only enclosed some live trees but also their bird inhabitants. They could not be shot without breaking the glass, and no-one had any idea what to do. So Queen Victoria consulted the elder statesman, and retired general, The Duke of Wellington. He had a simple answer.

“Sparrowhawks, Ma’am”

Trained falcons are in use at Toronto Pearson. Knowledge Network had a very good documentary about them recently, made several years ago. And in 1988 a review found the methodology worked well

Evaluation. – There is a sound biological basis to the use of falconry for bird control. Pest birds
are readily dispersed by falcons and will not habituate because the threat is real. Allowing a
falcon to kill a pest bird on occasion strengthens the threat. The fact that falconry is a “hands on”
technique that is deployed selectively further enhances it effectiveness over an automatic product
that is controlled by a timer.
Experienced handlers and trained raptors are required; neither may be available on short
notice. Raptors can not be used at night, or during periods of high winds or heavy rains.
Recommendation. – Falconry is recommended as a highly effective component of an airport bird
control program. Falconry can be used in conjunction with other deterrent techniques.

Why not here?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2007 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Air Travel, Environment

Tagged with , , ,

6 Responses

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  1. “For the past four years, raptors have kept down seagull populations at the Vancouver landfill site in Delta. The city contracted a company to use Harris hawks, peregrine falcons and goshawks to reduce the numbers of gulls.

    Falcons prowl the air at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Leeds Bradford International Airport in the United Kingdom. The Vancouver International Airport considered falcons for pest control, but decided against them because the migratory waterfowl that form the bulk of birds at the airport were not considered natural prey for falcons. There were also worries larger raptors passing through the area might turn the hunting falcons into the hunted.”


    June 4, 2007 at 12:38 pm

  2. Excellent post.

    The reason I would say “why not” is the costs that come along with falcons (and the dogs as well). Falcons don’t just come and stay of their own accord. Handlers must be hired that often charge a per hour basis. Also, they are not combating the problem at its root. Birds find the area attractive. The falcons make it temporarily unattractive, but the second they leave the other birds will quickly return. That means that the falcons must keep coming for the rest of eternity, and that entails their handlers and fees. There are products available that permanently make the area unattractive. They fall into the categories of visual scare device, roost inhibitor, taste aversion, sonic repeller and ultrasonic disrupter. You can see them at if you’re interested.

    Tom Starling

    June 5, 2007 at 1:08 pm

  3. Thank you. I am sorry it took so long to appear but your post was caught by Akismet as spam. I had to dig through through pages of the stuff to find it.
    It makes me wonder how many genuine responses I have missed.
    I understand about the cost issue, but falconry is no more expensive than employing people to shoot birds. I did not flag that in my quote, because I do not want the discussion to get into “animal rights” and all that, but the list does include a Great Blue Heron which is listed now as an endangered species. Frankly I do not care much what happens to starlings – or crows!
    The following is a list of species and numbers of birds shot by airport staff last year:
    – dunlin, 444
    – duck, 319
    – starling, 188
    – gull, 111
    – crow, 66
    – pigeon, 57
    – sandpiper, 35
    – snow goose, 22
    – Canada goose, 11
    – swallow, 9
    – hawk, 4
    – great blue heron, 1
    – owl, 1
    – other, 1

    Stephen Rees

    June 6, 2007 at 12:42 pm

  4. This is a bit old but it shows they did try falconry back in the seventies.
    In 1976, several falconry programs were reinstated in Canada under the Ministry of Transport (MOT). A program at Vancouver International Airport used two Peregrine Falcons, two Prairie Falcons, two Merlins, and two Gyrfalcons (Blokpoel 1977). Target species included: large flocks of Dunlin (Calidrus alpina), European Starlings (Sturnis vulgaris), and gulls (species not reported) that occurred irregularly on the airfield and could not be dispersed by conventional methods. Difficulties in obtaining and training the falcons against certain target species were encountered (Davies 1977). The program reported 95% success in dispersing birds (Davies 1977);
    however, data showing a reduction in bird/aircraft strikes were not available. The program was discontinued due to high costs and limited usefulness (Blokpoel 1977)

    Stephen Rees

    June 6, 2007 at 3:11 pm

  5. […] Follow the advice of the Duke of Wellington: Sparrowhawks Ma’am. […]

  6. I am pleased to report that on the CBC Vancouver News at 5 on January 9, 2014 there was a story about the use of raptors – including a trained juvenile bald eagle – to scare birds away from YVR airport.

    Stephen Rees

    January 9, 2014 at 5:38 pm

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