New York Decides Shooting Snowy Owls Is Not the Best Choice, After All

Snowy owls may congregate at airports because snowy tarmacs resemble the animals’ natural habitat, the Arctic tundra

Courtesy of Flickr user Nemodus Photos

When snowy owls began appearing on the runway of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, authorities took extreme measures. According to NBC New York, they shot and killed at least two of the birds last Saturday.

They did have a reason: the orders to shoot came after a snowy owl flew into a jet engine last week and several others slammed into planes. But environmentalists argue that the situation can be managed more peacefully. As Boston Magazine points out, Logan Airport has been dealing with snowy owls for years, and guns do not figure in to that city's owl-aircraft management schemes.

[Environmentalist Norman] Smith said he has been tagging the birds since the early 1980s as part of a relationship formed between the Audubon Society and airport officials. “Some winters we have had as few as one owl, and the most we ever captured in one year was 43 at Logan in the 1980s,” he said.

In total, since they started working with the airport, they have captured 500 birds. But this year Smith has seen a sharp spike in the amount of captures they have made.

"It’s an exceptionally high year. There are a lot of the birds around,” he said, adding that the owls usually show up in November and stick around until April.

Biologists are also involved in the efforts over at Logan, and they collect data by attaching small GPS devices from some of the trapped birds before they relocate them away from the airport.

After news broke about New York's drastic measures to keep the owls away from planes, the public's negative response helped persuade NYC officials to follow Boston's lead. NBC reports:

The Port Authority said it would implement a program to trap and relocate the birds, which have been migrating to the region this year in unusually high numbers.

"The Port Authority's goal is to strike a balance in humanely controlling bird populations at and around the agency's airports to safeguard passengers on thousands of aircrafts each day," the agency said in a statement.

Researchers are not sure why the snowy owls seem to congregate at airports; Boston Magazine postulates that it may be because snowy tarmacs resemble the animals' natural habitat, the Arctic tundra.

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