|Keeping an Eye on Ospreys |
Keeping an Eye on Ospreys
Langley Air Force Base, Virginia -- April 11, 2001 (ACCNS) -- Last July, a U.S. Agriculture Department wildlife biologist conducting a survey as part of Langley's Bird-Aircraft Strike Hazard monitoring program radioed the air-traffic-control tower to warn about bird activity over the runway.
An osprey flies to his nest on top of a building at Langley Air Force Base, Va. Government biologists are working with the Air Force to prevent collisions between birds and Langley's F-15 fighters.
Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jack Braden
"I was watching an F-15. As it reached the midfield, I heard a tremendous crash and saw flames erupt from the right engine," said Steve Kendrot, wildlife biologist.
The plane slowly climbed, circled around and landed with no other problems. Kendrot suspected the plane had hit a bird.
After an inspection, the extent of the damage became apparent. The engine smelled like charred meat. When a crew chief opened one of the engine panels, broken fan blades clattered to the ground and a broken fuel line leaked onto the pavement. A single talon from an osprey was found wedged behind a torn panel of sheet metal near the engine's intake. Damage estimates have exceeded $750,000.
Today, ospreys regularly forage in the nearby Back River, fly through the approach and departure zones of the runway and frequently land on the airfield to consume their catch. As many as five ospreys have been spotted over the runway at once. At least eight pairs nest on buildings and utility poles on base and navigational aids in the Back River, which surrounds one end of Langley's runway.
"It's a challenging situation," said Kendrot. "We want to protect the pilots and aircraft as well as the birds."
The osprey is protected by federal and state migratory bird regulations. The Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services is contracted by the base to solve this and other wildlife-related problems.
Typically, ospreys show little reaction to standard bird-dispersal tools like noise and scarecrows, so wildlife officials are considering innovative non-lethal ways, such as remote-controlled model airplanes to chase soaring raptors.
Langley has acquired all the permits needed to implement an integrated osprey-management plan that combines experimental techniques with nest and chick relocation, harassment with pyrotechnics, habitat alteration and adjustment of Air Force flight patterns.
"We believe that protecting aviators from the potentially tragic outcome of an osprey strike while contributing to the conservation of the species is a win-win situation," said Lt. Col. Jerry Gandy, chief of safety for the 1st Fighter Wing here.
Biologists hope to entice the birds away from high-threat areas around the base by removing nests and making traditional nesting sites unattractive while building platforms at Plum Tree National Wildlife Refuge, which is on the river five miles away.
According to officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it's out of harm's way, but currently has few suitable osprey nest sites. The base hopes to change that.
The College of William and Mary is participating in an effort to expand osprey populations which should help if ospreys do hatch young on base. People from the school capture 45-day-old chicks from nests and release them in suitable habitats in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The chicks return there to breed rather than their hatch sites.
Efforts to protect both osprey and aircraft from harm will require the same level of persistence demonstrated by the bird itself, Kendrot said. A successful resolution to the problem will require the combined efforts of many people and agencies, including raptor advocates, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Coast Guard, the Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services and the Air Force.