A juvenile bald eagle is the newest bird of prey being used to prevent birds from colliding with aircraft at Vancouver International Airport.
The eagle, named Hercules, is trained to fly over the airfield and scare away migrating waterfowl — particularly snow geese.
"He's fantastic. He knows to go after the geese actually. He goes out and searches for them and does a nice big flyover and comes back," said bird handler Emily Fleming.
A bird strikes an airplane every few days at Canada's second busiest airport, posing a significant threat to human safety.
Strikes can result in everything from damage to engines or windscreens to fatal crashes. It was geese, for example, that brought down U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in 2009, forcing the captain to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.
The airport's airside operations manager Brett Patterson said because the Vancouver airport is situated on the Fraser River estuary, it is an ideal habitat for waterfowl.
Strikes are especially challenging to manage at this time of year, when birds travel in big flocks. In 2010, for example, more than 600 birds were killed in over 200 strikes.
"We used to have a lot of problem with dunlin, which is a small flocking shorebird. We used to have as many as a thousand come here onto the airfield," said the airport's wildlife manager David Bradbeer.
"In 2012, we started using trained falcons to scare off the dunlin from some of our cross-wind runways."
The airport's flock also includes a Harris hawk, which patrols ditches for ducks.
"We'll have him in the truck with us, undo the window and pop him out, and he scares the ducks off," said Fleming.
Airport officials said the battle of the birds — in addition to other wildlife management techniques like dogs, sirens, propane cannons and pyrotechnics — have been effective in decreasing the frequency of bird strikes in recent years.
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