Last November Duke Energy Renewables was fined $1 million for the deaths of 14 eagles and 149 other birds. The Charlotte, NC wind turbine company settled under a plea agreement for incidents occurring between 2009-2013 that also included death and injury to hawks, blackbirds, wrens and sparrows. Under the federal Migratory Bird Act of 1918, the U.S. Department of Justice dispersed the settlement among North Carolina conservation groups including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The precedent-setting case, brought to court by the Osage Nation, will now require the company to procure an Eagle Take Permit, designed to prevent and minimize bird deaths at wind turbine farms.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service publishes a list of protected birds outlining the hazards of birds colliding with communication towers or other ‘human-made’ objects such as buildings and windows. It also outlines aircraft-wildlife strikes that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports as the second leading cause of aviation fatalities. The FAA report (p. 13) shows that from 1990-1999 a total of 874 gulls, 458 geese, 182 hawks, 166 ducks, 142 vultures and 231 doves were killed, among other birds.
Birds, airports and planes have proven to be a dangerous mix. The first recorded bird-aircraft strike occurred in 1905 when Wilbur Wright was flying over a field in Dayton, OH. Migratory birds, such as geese and gulls, are more frequently involved in these collisions. A recent example occurred Jan. 15, 2009 when U.S. Airways Flight 1459 leaving NY La Guardia airport was forced to land in the Hudson River after it collided with a flock of Canadian geese. The commercial passenger jet, with about 150 passengers on board, lost engine power at an altitude of 2,818 feet when it collided with the geese.
In response to this incident, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service and the city of New York targeted 17 locations to capture and gas 1,235 Canadian geese. A total of 1,739 geese eggs were found and coated with corn oil to prevent the goslings from developing before they hatch. Numerous articles and petitions can be found on the web detailing mass USDA geese kills.
The Hudson crash brought national attention to bird-aircraft strikes. Concerned with the fragile coexistence of man and nature, conservationists are working with the aviation industry to create safe, humane and effective ways to mitigate the problem.
Birds are attracted to the open, flat habitat around many busy airports. A November 2013 National Geographic article shows that more than 9,000 birds in the U.S. were struck annually by planes amounting to 482 bird species that were hit from 1990 through 2012. Further, the FAA estimates the rate of collisions that force pilots to land prematurely is one flight per day, on average. A Boeing Company publication indicates that airports are responsible for bird control and wildlife prevention measures. Non-lethal measures that airports use include noise, lasers, repellents, habitat and structural modifications but each year the USDA still herds and kills thousands of migratory birds, mainly geese.
The Bird/Animal Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program in North Carolina at the Marine Corps Air Station New River is helping to reduce the threat of aircraft striking birds and animals. The air station is situated near the nesting and feeding area of 10 to 12,000 ring-billed gulls that fly past the airstrip toward the river. Occasionally, a wildlife biologist shoos the gulls by releasing his Labrador retriever onto the runway. He also uses pyrotechnics so that the booms and flares frighten the birds away without harm.
Illustration by the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management
Airports such as Chicago O’Hare, New York JFK, Reagan and Dulles in Washington, DC now have fulltime wildlife biologists on location who use radar to track birds. Once birds are targeted, the biologists then set off lasers, noisemakers, cannons and pyrotechnics as a deterrent. They have also altered the habitat around airports to eliminate standing water, kill off bird food sources and reduce perch-friendly ledges in and around the airstrips. Since the 70s, research has prompted land use planners to avoid building airports near landfills.
“Several habitat management practices can make an airport less attractive to birds. These include eliminating standing water, removing or thinning trees, removing brush and managing grass height. Buildings can be modified to reduce or eliminate roosting or nesting sites,” writes Alfred J. Godin, retired USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services director. Godin also recommends obtaining audio recordings of bird distress calls that can be played through loud speakers at airports, or using certain types of nonhazardous repellents such as methyl anthranilate, which is a grape-flavored food additive.