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How Birds of Prey Keep Airports Safe

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When you think about birds running into plane engines, you probably feel bad for the birds. Understandable. But that's a big problem for planes, too, since they can cause damage and force pilots to make emergency landings. To counteract this growing problem, many airports are turning to the birds' natural predator: the falcon.

It's A Plane! It's A Bird!

You're probably at least somewhat aware of US Airways Flight 1549, the one that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009 after hitting a flock of geese — it eventually became a feature film starring Tom Hanks. Strikes like that happen thousands of times per year, and the numbers are rising. The FAA reports that there were more than 11,000 wildlife strikes in 2013, a 42 percent increase since 2009. That rising problem comes down to a number of factors, including the fact that planes are getting quieter and more people are flying.

To combat the bird problem, airports have tried all sorts of things, from sirens and pyrotechnics to flapping, falcon-like drones. O'Hare International Airport in Chicago even employs goats, sheep, and llamas to eat the plants that provide food and shelter for birds.

*Jaws Music*

They may get used to sirens and firecrackers, but nothing strikes fear into the hearts of lesser birds than a falcon. "Falcons are the great white shark of the sky," Mark Adam, president of Falcon Environmental Services, in a short film by Great Big Story. At the Toronto Pearson Airport, for example, Adam's company technicians set their birds aloft to patrol 4,500 acres every day from before sunrise to after sunset. According to Adam, the predators only kill another bird around one percent of the time, but it's enough to clear the air and let planes take off safely.

Of course, once you let a majestic bird free, there's no guarantee it'll come back to you. Handlers outfit the birds with radio transmitters to keep tabs on their locations and spin a hunk of delicious raw meat in the air to lure them back to home base.

The Ancient Art of Keeping Birds at Bay

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Written by Ashley Hamer December 21, 2017