Wildlife Control Has Shot and Killed Almost 26,000 Birds at JFK Airport

Contractors kill ‘problem species,’ including protected birds, to avoid wildlife-airplane collisions.

(Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

May 1, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Bird enthusiasts and concerned New Yorkers were outraged when wildlife control gunned down three snowy owls at John F. Kennedy International Airport last December. Now the contractors might be getting a little more flak. Newly released records show that over the past five years, they shot nearly 26,000 birds at JFK, including more than 1,600 they weren’t permitted to kill.

The Port Authority of New York, which operates the airport, allows the shooting of “problem species” to avoid bird strikes or wildlife-aircraft collision. Perhaps the most famous incident happened before the Hudson River landing led by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. A flock of Canada geese hit that plane’s engines, causing them to lose power.

Since then, the state’s wildlife control agency has ramped up its bird eradication efforts. From 2009 to 2013, JFK contractors killed 1,628 birds protected by the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, including snowy egrets, red-winged blackbirds, and American kestrels, a type of falcon.

“It appears they will kill anything they see, and they don’t think twice about it,” Jennifer Barnes, an attorney from advocacy group Friends of Animals, told DNAinfo.com. The organization recently filed a lawsuit to suspend the slaughter of all migratory birds at JFK.

Like other critics, Barnes argued that the agency’s urgency clause is too lenient. “If a bird they kill is not listed on the permit, they never have to explain why they needed to kill that animal, why it was an emergency,” she says. On the other hand, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service asserts that these actions comply with federal and state laws, and that a majority of the wildlife at airports is “chased away.”

From 1990 to 2012, waterfowl, gulls, raptors, and pigeons made up 79 percent of reported bird strikes that damaged American civil aircraft. As for migratory birds, studies have shown that deviations from their usual routes are partly due to climate change. Only 174 bird strikes were reported at JFK last year, and just a few of those caused damage to the aircraft.