Snowy Owls, Listed as Threat to Planes, to Be Trapped, Relocated: Port Authority

The agency that oversees New York’s airports shot down at least two snowy owls at Kennedy Airport, but now promises an effort to trap and relocate them.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey issued the shoot-to-kill order for the birds after one flew into a jet's engine while the plane was on a tarmac at Kennedy last week, an airport source told NBC 4 New York.  

After media reports on the hunted owls Monday, 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. 

A total of five planes were hit by snowy owls at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports in recent weeks, the Port Authority told the Associated Press. 

On Saturday, authority workers shot two snowy owls with a shotgun amid concerns that they would also fly into planes. A wildlife specialist who works for the Port Authority spent 45 minutes chasing one of them down, the source said.

Corey Finger, bird watcher and owner of the blog 10,000 Birds, says it's unusual for snowy owls to migrate to the area in such large numbers.

"There are so few and so rarely come down here, to shoot them seems like a complete waste," he said. 

This isn’t the first time the Port Authority has killed birds over flight concerns. More than 1,000 geese were caught and gassed near Rikers Island between 2003 and 2009 to curb the potential threat to aircraft, according to the Daily News.

A commercial jet hit a goose upon takeoff in 2009, forcing the plane to land on the Hudson River in what was referred to as the Miracle on the Hudson. That brought renewed focus on the threat of bird strikes, and about 2,000 geese were rounded up and killed that year.

Hundreds have since been killed each year near airports and in parks throughout the city.

Christine Sheppard, director of the Bird Collision Program for American Bird Conservancy and one of the world's leading experts on bird collisions, said there are other ways to avoid bird strikes. 

"You can use radar," she said. "Create a situation where people at the airport are aware of where birds are, they can actually warn a pilot." 

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