Planet Gore

A Non-Lethal, But Successful Way to Prevent Bird Strikes

CNN proflies wildlife biologist Steve Osmek and the work he is doing ridding Sea-Tac airport in Washington of plane-killing birds. An excerpt:

Osmek and a crew of about 20 helpers use low-tech and high-tech methods to guard against bird strikes. First, they combat the environments that attract birds by planting foliage that prevents them from landing and by covering any nearby bodies of water with netting.

“The main thing is to make sure the birds are not used to coming here to the airport,” Osmek says. “They don’t get used to feeding here, nesting here and in turn coming into closer contact with the aircraft.”

Birds that still stray into Sea-Tac airspace are harassed relentlessly.

Osmek uses a laser with a scope on it to shine a green light near birds. The light flashing near the birds mimics a predator stalking them, Osmek says, and usually causes them to take flight. For more persistent opponents, Osmek reaches into the deep arsenal of what he calls his “pyrotechnics.”

Using the pyrotechnics is also economical. One shell costs about $10, Osmek says, while a bird strike on a plane can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage or much worse.

They are explosive shells that he uses to ward off birds — sometimes large flocks of them — entering airspace near the airport’s three runways. Osmek fires the shells with a variety of pistols or a shotgun. Some boom loudly, and others scream into the sky before blowing up into puffs of smoke.

One projectile travels up to 1,200 feet before exploding like a thunderclap. It is intended to ward off high-flying birds like hawks or eagles. Osmek says the pyrotechnics only scare the birds and do not harm them.

“We’re not aiming the pyrotechnics right at them,” he explains. “We are usually aiming to where we can direct them to a safer place.”

Non-lethal. Effective. And probably the most fun job evar.

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