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article imageAirports Try Falcons to Keep Birds Away

By Joan Firstenberg     Feb 1, 2009 in Environment
One plane accident after another is blamed on birds who fly into the plane's engines, usually causing it to crash. But now, one man with a bird he loves may have come up with an environmentally friendly way to stop this from happening.
U.S. airports have been trying just about anything and everything in the seemingly futile attempt to keep birds away from the runway. But now, a Falconer working at McGuire Air Force Base in Central New Jersey, thinks he's found something. Andrew Barnes with his Peales Peregrine Falcon, "Nantucket" scans the airfield there for birds and he says his trusted big bird, who is a very fast flyer, and comes equipped with razor-sharp talons does the trick. Barnes says,
"It is the best tool that we have available to us."
The 43-year old Barnes was raised in what is now Zimbabwe and has been practicing the medieval art of falconry for three decades. He works for Falcon Environmental Services Inc., which is based in upstate New York.
The Port Authority of New York and Jersey now has a five-year, $3 million contract with the company to do falconry at Kennedy Airport, where a state-of-the-art bird-detection radar system is set to be deployed under a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Following the near-disaster of US Airways Flight 1549 last month, the PA also asked the FAA to put the high-tech bird radar at New York City's other large terminal, LaGuardia Airport, but so far, the FAA has not any decisions on that.
Barnes, who has been using falconry at JFK, says trying to reduce the bird population without falconry is a "losing battle."
"I wouldn't do this job if I couldn't use falcons."
Barnes says falcons, especially trained ones, are excellent to use since the species is one of the most feared predators in the avian world. He says his bird, Nantucket can reach speeds of mph in level flight, and when dive-bombing, he can do a rocket-like mph.
Barnes maintains that falconry is effective against all bird species except other raptors and turkey vultures.
Steve Garber, a wildlife biologist who formerly ran the bird-mitigation program at JFK and LaGuardia, agreed with Barnes.
"When done effectively, as part of a really good program, [falconry] makes everything far more effective."
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