Local News

Falcons help keep Fairchild skies clear

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - When Fairchild Air Force Base needed to keep birds, geese and other wildlife off its runway it took a note from its own play book and looked to airpower. Animal scare tactics are being used to stop birds and planes from colliding.

Falconer David Knutson uses several different types of falcons at Fairchild. His goal is to reduce the number of bird strikes that happen at the base.

"The more presence I can provide in the area with a predator the better we're going to scare birds off the runway," Knutson said.

The mere sight of the falcon is enough to scatter migrating geese and other local birds out of the airfield.

Knutson also uses a fishing pole with a fake bird attached to it to get his falcon to make several dives.

"It gives the impression to all the wildlife in the area that the falcon's hunting. It's hungry and it's hunting. So it's not safe to be out flying," Knutson said.

With flights out of the base on almost a daily basis Knutson has his work cut out for him. His effort is working.

"We saw the results immediately," Master Sgt. Joe Pierce from Fairchild Air Force Base said. From '96 to '97 we had an 83 percent reduction in non-damaging bird strikes."

Those falcons eliminated damaging bird strikes for the next 6 years.

"And Fairchild was a springboard for a lot of the other bases to actually look at other means to get rid of birds," Knutson said.

When the predators are done hunting, Knutson runs his dog across the field looking for any birds in hiding. Then it's on to other jobs.

"We do cherries and blueberries and vineyards. We scare all the birds that eat all their crops," Knutson said.

The effort isn't to kill birds, just get them to move.

"I go home feeling, you know what? We did another great day of work today," Knutson said.