Bird Controllers

Bird Controllers

Apr 1, 2015 News by Gary Searing

CFB TRENTON — Jason Botting and his colleagues provide an unusual type of security force that took wing here more than 15 years ago.

Like dogs that sniff out contraband in customs halls at international airports, falcons scare off gulls and other birds that can be hazardous for military aircraft in the critical moments of take-off and landing.

That’s when Botting, his three “birdman” or falconer colleagues at Falcon Environmental Services and their roaster of falcons (three) and hawks (four) come in play.

Originally from the Quinte area, Botting joined Canada’s largest air base’s falconry service in 2000.

What a “birdman” like Botting does is utilize the predator-prey relationship that they use in the wild.

“I was working on the air base here in another capacity and when somebody was asked to joined the team, received training and I started with them, more or less in a fill-in role for the first year,” he said, while driving his “birman” equipped SUV along one of the runways Tuesday.

In the back of his vehicle was gyr-saker hybrid falcon ‘Cash’.

Then, the three-year-old bird was eager to chase gulls or ducks off the runway.

Instead, he did something he never had before, he chased one of his own kind, another falcon.

“He’s never done this before,” said Botting, while blowing his whistle and swinging his lure round and round on a cord, hoping ‘Cash” would come back to him.

The experienced bird of prey eventually came back on the east side of the runway, about five kilometres from where Botting let him go.

In the meantime — and due to Mother Nature’s late-spring mood — there isn’t much for ‘Cash” and nine-year-old Nikki, a Harris’ hawk, to chase.

However, no birds to chase off the airfield doesn’t mean workless days for Botting and other falconers at 8 Wing. From sunrise to sunset, either Botting or one of his colleagues patrol the area — from runways, creeks, near buildings like the control tower to even inside hangars — every hour of the day, all year round.

“Botting likes to gain access to the runways “as quickly as possible” and start his patrol there — the area where most often a bird strike is likely occur.

“We’re here one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset,” he said.

“At a minimum, we are out here for patrol every hour. Typically, during the busy seasons, we are out here much more than that.”

With more than 20 years of experience, Falcon Environmental Services — it was founded in 1989 — is a North American leader in the field of ecological control and management of nuisance wildlife on airports and landfill sites.

Beside CFB Trenton, the firm’s military operations occur at CFB Shearwater in Nova Scotia, CFB Cold Lake in Alberta and at three US military bases in New-Jersey, Kansas and California.

It gets busier for falconers here at 8 Wing during peak migration periods and high-flying operational tempo.

“Some won’t leave the airfield for a couple to three hours (during busy seasons),” he said.

“We have the birds with us, so anything that we need to respond to, were equipped to do it right from the vehicle.”

On a typical falconry patrol, ‘Cash” would chase gulls and/or geese and “push” them away from ditches, creeks and other key areas. Botting said there are more and more gulls on the airfield every day due to excavated soil areas in many construction zones over the last few years.

“He (Cash) will fly away from me — sometime he would fly right out of the window — gain altitude and if he wants to pursue, he scoops down,” said the experienced falconer.

“I have had him take off after ducks before (…) when there’s just an explosion of birds out of the area.”

By Jerome Lessard, The Intelligencer

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 6:13:43 EDT PM