PITTSBURGH — Thanks to the quick response by the Allegheny County Airport Authority wildlife team, an endangered short-eared owl that was recently spotted at Pittsburgh International Airport has been saved.
In Pennsylvania, the short-eared owl is endangered and protected under the Game and Wildlife Code.
So when one was recently spotted at the airport, the ACAA wildlife team promptly coordinated a plan to protect the bird while also ensuring airport safety. It resulted in getting the owl safely relocated with assistance of partner agencies.
The ACAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture contacted The National Aviary and the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the groups worked together in an effort to remove the endangered short-eared owl to a more suitable location in Washington County.
"There are many measures to discourage common wildlife species at airports. The management of threatened and endangered species is more challenging. When these species are identified on airport land, the Authority's wildlife management team works with environmental regulatory agencies to balance the need to protect these species with the needs for maintaining the day-to-day safety of airport operations," said Bradley D. Penrod, president and chief strategy officer of the Allegheny County Airport Authority.
Short-eared owls are medium-sized owls with small ear tufts on the top of the head. They have round, beige facial disks similar to those of barn owls.
They are most often observed in the late afternoon and at dawn or dusk.
Pennsylvania is considered the southern edge of their breeding range in North America.
Birds at airports present a significant threat to aircraft safety. When the bird is endangered, the airport is required by the FAA to comply with the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
In this case, trapping and relocating the owl was the desired method. The USDA obtained the proper permission, including trapping permits and relocation clearance, in order to capture the owl.
Staff of the National Aviary examined and banded the owl in an effort to possibly gain more information about the species. The owl was transported to Washington County, where it was released on 500 acres of reclaimed strip mine.
Pittsburgh International Airport has a comprehensive, integrated program in place to help minimize conflict between birds and aircraft.
"It is a continuous management program designed to minimize wildlife-related risks," said Penrod. "In addition to vigilance and watchfulness, our program implements innovative methods of monitoring and adaptation of mitigation techniques."