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NEWS | July 8, 2015

JBSA-Randolph participates in project to reduce aircraft bird strikes

Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Biologists from the 12th Flying Training Wing Safety Office at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are participating in a research project to find solutions for preventing bird strikes on aircraft at the location.

The project focuses on the white-winged dove, the species of birds that causes the most damage and poses the most risk to aircraft operations at JBSA-Randolph because of their sheer numbers, Michael Pacheco, 12th FTW Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard Program biologist, said.

In 2014, there were 70 aircraft from JBSA-Randolph involved in bird strikes with 12 of those total bird strikes causing $1.15 million in damage to aircraft operations, Maj. Jeremy Fischman, 12th FTS safety officer, said. Fischman said white-winged doves were involved in 14 percent of the total strikes last year, causing $338,000 in damage to aircraft – 30 percent of the total damage to aircraft operations in 2014.

Biologists plan to trap the white-winged doves and put leg bands and radio transmitters on them to track their movements on and around JBSA-Randolph, Brian Washburn, USDA Wildlife Services research biologist, said.

The project’s findings, will focus on the location of the doves’ habitats at JBSA-Randolph and the surrounding areas in order to determine when the birds are on JBSA-Randolph, and where they go in the surrounding areas.

Using this research data, biologists hope to find ways to prevent the birds from using JBSA-Randolph as their habitat to prevent future bird aircraft strikes.

Washburn said it will take biologists a year to gather and analyze the data from the research project.

“We want to get a sense as to what part of the population is actually migrating away and what part is staying here year round, and that’s important when we look into our BASH operations to reduce risks,” Washburn said. “We want to know what bird behavior patterns we are dealing with.”

Washburn said project plans include capturing 1,080 white-winged doves this summer and another 1,000 doves in the winter.

Each of those doves, he said, will have a leg band with a unique number placed before the bird is released.

Of the 1,080 doves captured in the summer, 80 of them will have small radio transmitters implanted underneath their skin behind the head, Washburn said.

Pacheco said white-winged doves pose a safety threat to pilots and aircraft operations at JBSA-Randolph. When an aircraft strikes a bird, one or even two engines could be taken out.

“There is a high potential for a catastrophic event,” Pacheco said. “You don’t want to lose a pilot or a plane because of a bird strike.”

The highest number of instances of aircraft striking white-winged doves occurs in the spring and summer when the white-winged dove population is at its highest peak due to breeding, nesting and migration, Pacheco said.

Since white-winged doves tend to gather in larger groups, Fischman said more than one of these birds can be involved in the same strike against an aircraft, causing the most damage of any species to aircraft at JBSA-Randolph.

Ted Pepps, USDA wildlife biologist from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, said biologists will capture the birds by using a remote controlled electromagnetic drop net trap system.

Pepps said this is a trap system that requires birds to be preconditioned to feeding under the net for several days before any capture occurs. Once the desired number and species of birds are feeding under the net, a remote trigger is used to drop the net on the birds.

“It allows us to capture a larger number of birds in a short period of time, making the effort more efficient,” he said. “It’s easy to set up. It can be deployed quickly and quietly.”