2012_04_wawlogo2.jpgEver since a few Canadian geese unwittingly tested the piloting skills of Captain Sullenberger, the Port Authority has stepped up its wildlife management and bird depredation efforts. A team of wildlife supervisors drive around JFK in SUVs using noisemakers, balloons, lasers, and shotguns to disperse or kill birds that may put human fliers in danger. Recently a Port Authority spokesman gave us some insight on the constant struggle to keep winged animals at bay.

What about JFK makes for such a unique environment for controlling birds? JFK is located on a salt marsh near the Atlantic Ocean, both of which provide good habitats for a wide variety of birds as well as stopover points on migratory routes.

What sort of training is required for a wildlife supervisor? How many are on staff? Extensive initiatives include aviation-related wildlife management training, on-the-job training for specific control techniques and strategies, annual safety review for the safe handling of firearms and pyrotechnics and an all-day wildlife hazard management training class annually. At least one wildlife supervisor is on duty from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week. We also have one senior wildlife supervisor on duty during the day on weekdays along with wildlife agents who work under the supervision of the supervisors and conduct nonlethal control efforts. We also have wildlife biologists on duty during weekdays to monitor wildlife populations, conduct wildlife control and administer the wildlife program.

How big is the area that has to be patrolled? The airport is almost 5,000 acres and about 2,500 acres are within the aeronautical portion of the airport. Wildlife control is focused on the aeronautical portion of the airport, but we conduct wildlife management on the entire airport property.

How many birds were killed under the depredation program last year? What's the most frequently shot-down bird? Almost 5,000 birds were taken under the airport’s depredation permits in 2011. Laughing gulls, herring gulls, and Atlantic Brant, respectively, were the most frequently depredated bird species.

How close does a bird have to get to the runway to become a problem? Each runway and its safety zone are considered the most critical areas. The safety zone is defined as 150 feet from the runway center line extending outward and 1000’ from the runway ends.

How are falcons used, and how often? Who works with them? Falcons are no longer used at JFK. [Ed: Awwwwwwwww maaaaaaaannnnnn.]

Is there a sort of "order of operations" to the tools used on the birds? In other words, do you always use the noisemakers or lasers before the shotguns? No, the specific techniques used are based on various factors, including but not limited to the species, whether that bird has been previously controlled, location of the birds on the airfield, past behavior of that species, whether the shooting zone is safe, and time of year (migratory vs. breeding seasons).

How do those birds you see in the airport terminals get indoors, and what happens to them? They enter through openings in the building, especially doors. It is the airport terminal operator’s responsibility to remove the birds. We prohibit all birds from being relocated on the airport since they can become a hazard to aircraft.

Do you have a particularly favorite tool to use on the birds?The green laser is an effective tool in limited situations. It is one of the most effective tools to disperse starling roosts at dusk. It’s quiet and you can use it in close proximity to people without disturbing anyone.

Are any other animals an issue for JFK's runways besides birds? Yes, we also manage rabbits and hares, as well as muskrat, raccoons, opossums, and feral cats. This is a small portion of our management program though.

What's the most unusual thing you've seen out there?Burrowing owl and ravens at JFK (both seen only once at JFK).

Previously in Winged Animal Week: we talked to City Birder Rob Jett about urban birdwatching, visited Brooklyn's backyard chicken coops, scratched our heads over the "Petal Storm," and Aww'd over some newly hatched Black Necked Swans.