Keeping air travel safe: new recruit added to YVR feathered arsenal

It’s not an uncommon problem airports cope with around the world, having birds and planes collide. In fact, it happens every couple of days. But in order to keep the wild birds and aircraft as far apart as possible, Vancouver airport (YVR) is expanding one of its innovative programs and bringing on a new recruit.

More than 250,000 planes come and go from YVR each year and every year more than 100 planes will experience a bird strike.

“Safety is first and paramount for everybody – passengers on the plane, the flight crew and also we want to protect the birds as well,” Brett Patterson, YVR airside operations director said. “So we developed a program here that will keep the feathered birds away from the metalled birds.”

The airport’s wildlife management program has evolved throughout the years and currently, they employ a variety of methods.

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“We’ve used everything from standard pyrotechnics to lasers, sirens on our cars,” David Bradbeer, YVR Wildlife Program said. “We’ve expanded our program to include animal stimulus, and we have our Border Collie program.”

Then two years ago they decided to add raptors, also known as birds of prey to the program, an idea inspired by nature herself.

As Patterson explained, they learned by accident when they spotted a Peregrine Falcon flying through the area a few years ago. After the falcon’s appearance, the wildlife crew noticed all the shore birds disappeared from the airport for a few days.

Now YVR has two hawks and four falcons regularly patrolling YVR’s expansive 1,300 hectares.

“It’s deeply seeded in him for sure,” Raptor Biologist Emily Fleming said of the falcon named Dash. “He loves to chase things and he sort of learned here how to do it all.”

The wildlife specialists at YVR say the hawks and falcons do a good job of scaring away the flocks of little shore birds like dunlins but not as well with the bigger shore birds. To combat that issue, last October YVR introduced Hercules to their feathered ranks.

“Techniques to deal with water fowl like the snow geese and the eagle is just one more tool we have in our box to keep the airport safe,” Bradbeer said.

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Hercules is a two-year-old bald eagle and was hatched and raised in captivity specifically for this purpose. Although he hasn’t caught anything yet, it doesn’t take away from his ability to intimidate other birds, which is all YVR wants.

“It’s a fantastic job,” Fleming said.

“It’s not very often you get to walk around in the beautiful scenery and get to feel good about it. You feel like you’re doing something useful.”

~ with files from Linda Aylesworth

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