by David Bradbeer
Wildlife Program Specialist
Vancouver Airport Authority
Safety and security is at the heart of Vancouver International Airport’s operations. An essential part of our mandate is ensuring the safe and efficient movement of aircraft and passengers to and from our airport, and that’s why we have a comprehensive wildlife management program in place.
Given our location along the Pacific Flyway, Sea Island is home to several local bird species, as well as a popular stopover for flocks of migratory birds heading south or north, depending on the season. 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 four components: monitoring, habitat management, movement of birds through harassment techniques and, where there is a perceived safety risk to aviation, killing of birds.
One relatively new element of our habitat management and bird movement plan is the use of trained raptors. We use falcons, hawks and – new this year – eagles to scare away hazardous bird species from the airfield. Bird species that pose a significant risk to aviation safety include flocking shorebirds like dunlin and geese.
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. The newest member of our raptor family is Hercules, a captive-raised juvenile bald eagle, whose job is to chase ducks and snow geese away from the active airfield.
When not being flown on the airfield, Hercules and his colleagues make their home in a specially-designed cage or mews. Local Burkeville neighbours may hear some noise coming from the mews: this is the raptors begging for food from their handlers. Hercules in particular is quite vocal, but this behavior is normal.
Another group of raptors on Sea Island are not as welcome as Hercules and his trained falcon friends. Wild raptors such as red-tailed hawks, barn owls, coopers hawks and peregrine falcons are difficult to control and typically resist attempts to scare or harass them away from the airfield. To ensure these birds do not come into contact with aircraft, we use an Environment Canada-approved trap and relocation program. Once trapped, a certified master bander affixes a band or tag to the bird for identification. Tagged birds are relocated and released in Chilliwack within 36 hours of capture. In 2013, the wildlife team managed to trap, band and relocate 96 raptors. This is a very important component of our wildlife management and airfield safety program.
For more on YVR’s wildlife management program, check out my post on the YVR blog. You can also watch a video to learn how our wildlife team uses specially trained border collies to keep YVR’s airfield safe: