Monday, March 28, 2005

Birds at Airports

Airports attract birds. I whimsically speculate that as the birds are cruising by, they notice the huge metal birds all gathered together on the aerodrome. "Wow," they think, "there must be a lot of food down there to support that many birds. We'd better go check it out." Really, I doubt their little feathered heads are capable of that kind of deductive reasoning. It's probably more related to the fact that the huge area between and around the runways is usually uncut grass, ideal for the propagation of rats, rabbits and bugs. On rainy days the worms wriggle out of the soaking ground to avoid drowning, and lots of worms end up squirming nakedly on the pavement. Birds just see all this as a dog-and-cat-free smorgasbord.

Many airports, including the one I'm sitting at now, have bird eradication programs. These consist of dogs, guys with pickup trucks, and guns. All the ingredients of a country & western song except for whiskey and cheating women. "Trained" dogs (how much training does a dog need to bark furiously and run after birds?) are apparently very effective. I saw a TV show on it once, so it must be true. Here (yes, I'm blogging at work, so I guess cheating women do factor in this equation) there are no dogs, just a couple of guys driving around in a really big pickup truck wielding guns that make a lot of noise and smoke, but don't, I believe, actually kill birds. I disagree with this approach.

The birds aren't really scared of the guys in pick up trucks. The other day I watched a scene that could have been on America's Funniest Home Videos. The guys with the pickup truck kept driving towards a huge slow-moving great blue heron. The heron would then take off, fly around in a big circle, and land behind the pick up truck, or on another runway. Another day they had to close a runway for several minutes because a group of eagles had decided to park there, and really didn't care what anyone thought.

I don't think they should shoot the endangered birds, even though they are endangering humans. I think they should shoot crows and seagulls and let the eagles figure out that they might be next. Even if the guys in pickups were marksmen working all day shooting and killing birds, they wouldn't make a significant enough dent in their population to decrease the threat to aircraft. Likewise, killing a few isn't going to upset the delicate balance of nature. They should kill some so that the sticks that go bang make a significant impression on the ones that remain. When I was a kid my dad pointed a bamboo pole at a tree full of crows and they all took off and swirled away into the sky. "Why are they scared of the stick, Dad?" In that area the police did crow culls with shotguns. Crows, admittedly smarter than your average bird, had learned that when men point long sticks at your tree, you'd better get the firetruck out of there.

I like birds. I really do. I admire their flying skills. I would help an injured one. I want them to live. But I want them to enjoy that life in mortal terror of airplanes, runways and airports, so that they make their final flap among friends and family, and not in my face.


Anonymous said...

In the UK I think they use tapes of distress calls to frighten the birds away.

Kris Johnson said...

I had a near-miss with a bird during one of my early flying lessons. It passed just a few feet above the plane.

Maybe we can send them all to ground school, so they can learn about the airspace rules and how to fly in the pattern.