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Birds with Jobs

Some new feathered friends have joined the wildlife management team at YVR.

On a recent airside media tour, I had the chance to meet Hercules, Goliath and Dash, three trained raptors with a very important job in our effort to ensure the safe and efficient movement of aircraft and passengers to and from our airport.

Thanks to its coastal location and flat terrain, Sea Island is an ideal spot for an airport. But it’s also an ideal spot for bird species, including flocks of migratory birds that regularly stop over here. The proximity of feathered birds to metal birds poses a serious risk to aviation safety. To combat potential bird strikes, our wildlife program consists of several components including monitoring, habitat management and movement of birds.

Since 2012, YVR’s wildlife management team has been employing trained falcons, hawks and, most recently, Hercules, a juvenile bald eagle, to deter wild and flocking birds from gathering on or near YVR’s airfield. Bird species that pose a significant risk to aviation safety include flocking shorebirds like dunlin, as well as geese. A bird strike involving a flock of geese is what led to the emergency landing of US Airways 1549 on the Hudson River five years ago.

To ensure that we use trained raptors as effectively as possible, we have teamed up with Pacific Northwest Raptors, whose professional falconers “fly” the trained raptors. Teams patrol the airfield, and release the raptors, who effectively scare away ducks, pigeons and other unwelcome fowl. See some raptors in action in this video.

When not being flown on the airfield, Hercules and his associates make their home in a specially-designed mews, or cage.   These carnivorous birds form attachments with their handlers and can be quite vocal, especially during a well-deserved meal of raw quail or pheasant.

This photo gallery features images of Hercules, Goliath the harris hawk and Dash the speedy falcon.

Watch CBC Television’s coverage of the raptors here

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