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Oregon airport hires herding dog to cut down on "bird strikes"

Plane

From 1990 to 2008, aircraft at LAX struck more than 900 birds and other animals, according to data released last month by the FAA.  Our colleague Robert J. Lopez reported:

Only 36 of the incidents, or 3.8%, resulted in substantial damage, records show. There were no fatalities. At least five times, planes reported hitting foxes.

The records are part of a newly available database that lists 112,387 reports of aircraft striking wildlife, including reptiles and mammals, at 2,008 airports in the United States and Canada from January 1990 through November 2008.

The records show that the number of wildlife strikes has increased dramatically nationwide in the last decade. Since 2000, the list of airports with the greatest number of serious incidents is led by New York's John F. Kennedy International, with 30 strikes, and Sacramento International, with 28. LAX, with 16, is tied for ninth place.

The "bird strike" issue, of course, became water-cooler fodder in January, when US Airways Flight 1549 went down in the Hudson River.  Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, Flight 1549's pilot, became a national hero for setting the Airbus down in the river with no casualties.  Windshield- and wing-hitting birds like mourning doves, gulls and pigeons became something of a national scourge, although the FAA's data shows it's nothing new.

What's an airport to do?  Why, hire a specialist, of course!  That's why the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend, Ore., hired Filly -- a border collie whose official title is "wildlife management canine." 

"She's chased flocks of geese into the water," said Bob Hood, the airport's wildlife manager. "She's really good at her job and she really likes her job." 

Filly is the third wildlife management canine Hood has trained to shoo away birds like Canada geese at the airport.  (He's trained police dogs and search-and-rescue dogs as well.)

The birds, of course, probably don't much like having Filly around -- but it's certainly preferable to the alternatives, not the least of which is being hit by a plane.  From the Coos Bay World:

The dogs don't hurt the birds, because they usually can't catch them, although Filly did catch a goose once.

"She's fast," Hood said. "I saw her run and jump up in the air. There was a big fight on the ground by the time I got there."

The Coos County Animal Shelter donated the 2 1/2-year-old about a year ago. She had about two months of training before going out in the field.

Every day Hood and Filly arrive at the airport at 5:30 a.m. and stay until dark when an operations crew takes over.

As they ride around in his truck, Hood communicates by radio with the air traffic controllers, who monitor aircraft arrivals.

Other airports have tried similar techniques to cut down on bird strikes.  One notable case study, at Durban International Airport in South Africa, reported a 57% reduction in bird strikes once the airport procured a wildlife management dog.

The dog used in the South African airport, named Mac, was also a border collie.  Coincidence?  We think not.

Correction: The original text of this post referred to the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport as being located in Bend, Ore.  Astute reader Pril pointed out that the airport is actually located in North Bend, Ore.  We've corrected the error.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A flock of birds, disturbed by a plane's takeoff, takes flight from the side of a runway in Canandaigua, N.Y.  Credit: Vasiliy Baziuk / Associated Press

 
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The Southwest Oregon Regional Airport is not in Bend, Oregon. It is in North Bend, which is about 220 miles or so southwest of Bend. North Bend is in Coos County, and Bend is in Deschutes.

hello... is anyone going to fix the Bend/North Bend error? They are not the same place. All you have to do is look at a map of Oregon

Hi Pril, thank you for pointing out the error -- we've corrected it!


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