Keeping birds away from BWI is a multi-pronged attack

-- Jan. 25--Wildlife biologist Jeremy Smith loves birds. He admires their "intricate design" and "awesome" variety. But when birds intrude on Smith's workplace, the 33-year-old U.S. Department of Agriculture employee is prepared to...

Michael J. Begier, national coordinator of USDA's Animal Wildlife Hazards Program, said the two most deadly plane crashes caused by bird strikes -- one that killed 62 in 1960 at Boston's Logan International Airport and another that killed 30 in 1996 in the Netherlands -- involved European starlings.

While starlings, one of the species common at BWI, are small, Begier said, they have dense bodies and travel in large flocks. In Europe they're called "feathered bullets."

"They can really tear an engine up," Begier said.

According to Begier, Smith is doing "an excellent job" at BWI even though it's impossible to prevent all bird strikes. "He's decreased risk to the flying public," Begier said.

Smith said that each airport poses its own challenges when it comes to controlling wildlife. Such East Coast airports as Washington's Reagan National, Logan and New York's Kennedy International sit right beside large bodies of water, he noted -- a problem BWI doesn't share. The closest Chesapeake Bay tributaries, he said, are far enough away that the birds that flock there stay below the flight path.

When habitat control doesn't do the trick at BWI, the next step is harassment, Smith said. That can take many forms, including flares, other pyrotechnics and air cannons.

The effectiveness of nonlethal harassment varies from species to species. Some, such as blue herons, are easily spooked, Smith said. Others, such as geese and starlings, can become accustomed to the bangs and booms and hunker down around the runways.

That's when the shotguns come out.

"We will use lethal control to follow up the nonlethal harassment," Smith said. "If you didn't, it would not be doing your job."

The USDA scientist said he has no qualms about his role.

"I'm more willing to sacrifice some birds for some human lives in planes."

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