Have you heard this one? What kind of bird doesn’t need a comb? Answer: a Bald Eagle.
What’s not to like about Bald Eagles? They are a symbol of our freedom and can be seen, wings outspread, on gold coins, the silver dollar, the half dollar and the quarter. They are among thousands of bird species that grace our country’s spacious skies. While some people view birds as a symbol of freedom, others see them as a hazard.
For David Briseño, wildlife biologist with the United States Department of Agriculture and head of March’s Bird/Anti-Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program, he is of the latter mindset and birds are no laughing matter, especially when it comes to aircraft.
“The goal of the BASH program is to reduce and prevent aircraft collisions with wildlife, to prevent bird strikes,” said Briseño. “It’s important because birds and other wildlife, when they collide with aircraft, can cause significant damage. The BASH program protects aircraft and human health and safety.”
Briseño patrols the March airfield daily monitoring any hazardous wildlife, especially on the runways, logging all operations, harassment or degradation work.
“Here at March we have a lot of raptors, (like) Red-Tail Hawks, the Prairie Falcon and American Kestrels. We also have other smaller birds and mammals like burrowing owls, coyotes and ground squirrels,” said Briseño.
While migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Briseño says that a depredation permit is in place through the U.S. Fishing and Wildlife Service to remove any species that are an immediate danger to aircraft or human health and safety.
“Our main tools that we use are pyrotechnics which are noise-making devices,” said Briseño. “The goal of pyrotechnics is to scare the birds out of an area to make sure they aren’t running a risk of colliding with any aircraft.“
To stay in front of the issue Briseño uses Bird-Monitoring surveys.
“Bird Monitoring surveys are standardized bird-point-counts that give us a way to scientifically determine a relative number of what’s out on the airfield,” Briseño said. “Over the course of a year we can identify, seasonally, what wildlife we can expect to come upon (and) how many we can expect to deal with. That helps us to focus our management efforts with the BASH program.”
According to Air Force Safety Center statistics, during fiscal year 2013 there were 4,230 wildlife strikes, down from 4,768 the previous fiscal year.
When bird-strikes occur at March, remains must be identified by experts.
“All our wildlife strikes result in us sending remains (feathers, fur, snarge) and pictures to the Smithsonian Bird Division for identification. They do a fantastic job of giving us the family and species of the wildlife struck so the Air Force can get historic trends. We have a great reputation with the Bird Division in that we have been very good about sending them 100 percent of our samples,” said Lt. Col. William Adelman, chief of Flight Safety, 452nd Air Mobility Wing.
Those trends are used to understand bird populations in and around our air fields so the Air Force can implement necessary resources to keep its assets safe and mission-ready to protect this country and its symbols of freedom.