When NATO pilots practice low-level bombing runs at the Canadian Forces Base in Cold Lake, Alberta, their enemy isn’t Qaddafi loyalists or Taliban insurgents. It’s snow geese. Not exactly something an air-to-air missile can address. So to eliminate this scourge, NATO enlisted the help of Falcon Environmental Services, a company that uses birds of prey to drive the fowl away from jet engines. “A falcon guarantees results every time,” owner Mark Adam says. “The local birds know that our animals are eaters and they’re going to be lunch.”
Airports around North America have also hired the company to keep geese at bay—a job that involves more than letting a falcon loose and calling it a day. At Toronto Pearson Airport, for example, Falcon Services technicians begin patrolling the 4,500 acres for geese and gulls from an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset. To scare the droppings out of a flock of unwanted birds, a falcon, outfitted with a microtransmitter worn like a backpack, is released. Then, hopefully, it comes back.
“These birds are conditioned to be around us, but they’re not trained like a dog,” Adam explains. “There’s no way to stop them from going too far.” Enter that transmitter, which Adam’s team tracks to determine the location of a rogue bird; handlers can then approach it and lure it back with food. Usually it’s less than 20 miles away—sometimes within a few hundred yards. But then there’s the falcon in upstate New York that hit a thermal column, climbed to 6,000 feet, and wound up in Maine 48 hours later. After a 300-mile chase across New England, Adam decided to take the $5,000 hit and let him free—as a bird.