March Air Reserve Base is home to the mighty C-17 Globemaster III and the reliable KC-135 Stratotanker. But did you know it’s also home to several species of other birds, of the feathered variety? In particular, the Great Blue Heron has become a frequent visitor to the base parade field and visits it in the morning and the evening to hunt its prey.
“As with other areas on base, the parade grounds are a welcoming retreat for our feathered friends. They entertain us,” said Maria Briones, 452nd Air Mobility Wing financial management office.
The base commander has nicknamed one of the birds, Hap, but ladies in the financial management office call it Clyde, according to Faith Saunders, who works there.
“I just think these birds are fascinating and a good stress reliever,” Saunders said.
This stork-like avian moves its tall legs deliberately, one in front of the other, almost stealth-like until it spots a meal, which could range from insects to rodents, as its staple, fish diet is not available here. It looks statuesque in the grassy area as it patiently waits until just the right moment to go in for the kill. With lightning-quick reflexes, it uses its long bill like a dagger to render its prey motionless in an instant, after which, the Heron swallows its catch whole. The Great Blue Heron can swallow prey much larger than its long, thin neck by controlling its neck muscles, much like a snake. It stands about four feet tall with its neck fully extended and has a wing span that can reach up to 6 feet.
Although this species is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill any bird and to ship or transport any bird or its parts, nest or egg, it doesn’t address nudging the birds to move along when needed for flight safety; theirs and ours.
The Great Blue Heron weighs about five or six pounds, said Heather Barker, wildlife manager and ecologist with the Birdstrike Control Program. With that mass and the possibility of the Heron entering our flight path, a bird strike to one of our aircraft would be significant, she said.
“I’ve just seen two of them, but there may be more. With such a small number and the time of day they fly over the airfield, usually early morning before there are flights scheduled, the risk is much less,” Barker said.
She has spotted them in several of the grassy areas on base because of the holes and resident small mammals, she said. The Great White Egret, a different species, is also a regular.
“They know my truck already so sometimes I park farther away and send the dog in,” Barker said. “They are very cautious. Their tactic is to stand extremely still and blend in, but my dog trusts me when I tell her there’s something there. She’s looking for it so the second it moves, she sees it.”
The purpose of harassing the migratory birds is to get them to relocate to an area where they won’t fly over the airfield or into the flight path. If the dog chases them away enough times, they will most-likely move to an area where they will be safer; a win-win for every bird, feathered or not.
A Great Blue Heron holds a rodent it just caught near the parade field at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., Oct. 16, 2012. The Heron hunts daily at various locations on base and has been dubbed “Hap” by the commander and “Clyde” by financial management personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Linda Welz)