Even small birds are a big problem at airports.
All sorts of feathered and furry creatures are a threat to aircraft — both commercial and private. Part of an airport manager's job is to take care of wildlife effectively, said Mike Wilson, who handles that job in Aberdeen. The main issue is the danger to human life.
Like models who do little but posing, killdeer and cliff swallows have been spending a lot of time on the runways of Aberdeen this year.
The killdeer seem to kill nothing but time. Wilson said the birds are frustrating because they just like sitting on the pavement, doing nothing.
“There's nothing we can do about a bird that's just sitting there, not eating or anything.”
Bill Antonides of Aberdeen said killdeer are ubiquitous in the world of air travel. “The airport environment just seems to be wonderful for killdeer,” said Antonides, who is a qualified airport wildlife biologist, as certified by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Except for the airport he's working on now, at Yellowstone National Park, killdeer have been a familiar site at every airport Antonides has worked with.
One killdeer probably doesn't pose much of a threat to an airplane. But in the fall, those birds come through in large flocks. “The potential of a multi-bird strike is what you're always concerned about with these small birds,” Antonides said.
Airports keep careful track of the birds that enter their air space and the critters that enter on foot. Wilson and maintenance foreman Bob King have a list of all the birds, including the species of each, that strike aircraft at the Aberdeen airport. They also take note of all “birds that we find lying dead within 200 feet” of the runway center line, Wilson said. It is assumed that those birds struck an aircraft.
The airport also voluntarily takes part in a program operated by the Smithsonian Institution's Feather Identification Lab. When Aberdeen airport officials can't determine the species of a bird, they send the bird to the program, which maintains a database for the Federal Aviation Administration. Even a blood smudge on an aircraft is enough to tell what type of bird it is.
By keeping track of that information, an airport knows what type of wildlife it has issues with. Steps can then be taken.
“If we're hitting ducks, then we darn sure better be doing something about that,” Antonides said.
Airports can do a variety of things to control wildlife populations.
It took just one small stone to fell Goliath, he noted.
But in general, “if you're going to have to make choices, hitting a barn swallow or a cliff swallow is a whole lot better than hitting a giant Canada goose,” Antonides said.
The bird that’s caused the most human deaths in U.S. air history is the starling, Antonides said. “That's not because of their size. It's because of their propensity to fly in huge, thick flocks,” Antonides said.
The birds are small and dense. “They're sometimes called feather bullets. Nearly 100 people have been killed in crashes caused by starlings.”
One type of duck causes a lot of problems for pilots. “For reasons I can't explain, a pintail seems to be more hazardous than several other species of waterfowl,” Antonides said.
Antonides prepared the wildlife hazard assessment and the wildlife hazard management plan for the Aberdeen airport.
There are many ways to modify wildlife patterns, he said.