Flying high: birds of prey keep flightline safe

C130, a common buzzard, spreads his wings during a Loomacres Wildlife demonstration at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 7. Loomacres uses predatory birds, including Harris hawks, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and goshawks as part of their bird-deterrence program on RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Eric Burks)

C130, a common buzzard, spreads his wings during a Loomacres Wildlife demonstration at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 7. Loomacres uses predatory birds, including Harris hawks, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and goshawks as part of their bird-deterrence program on RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Eric Burks)

Bora, a peregrine falcon, sits on a perch at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 12. The predatory birds kept at RAF Lakenheath are used as part of Loomacres Wildlife bird-deterrence program, aimed at keeping the airfield as bird-free as possible. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Abby L. Finkel)

Bora, a peregrine falcon, sits on a perch at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 12. The predatory birds kept at RAF Lakenheath are used as part of Loomacres Wildlife bird-deterrence program, aimed at keeping the airfield as bird-free as possible. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Abby L. Finkel)

A 492nd Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle takes off at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 13. To protect aircraft from bird strikes, Loomacres wildlife biologists work daily to clear birds from the airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Abby L. Finkel)

A 492nd Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle takes off at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Dec. 13. To protect aircraft from bird strikes, Loomacres wildlife biologists work daily to clear birds from the airfield. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Abby L. Finkel)

Roose, a red-tailed hawk, sits on a perch at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 12. Loomacres Wildlife uses birds of prey and other audial and visual deterrents to protect aircraft from bird strikes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Abby L. Finkel)

Roose, a red-tailed hawk, sits on a perch at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 12. Loomacres Wildlife uses birds of prey and other audial and visual deterrents to protect aircraft from bird strikes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Abby L. Finkel)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- A tiny bird can cause a disproportional amount of damage to even the largest multimillion dollar aircraft.

To keep our aircraft and aircrews safe from bird strikes, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall enlist the help of wildlife biologists from Loomacres Wildlife to maintain flightlines that are as clear of bird hazards as possible.

"You have the combination of fast-moving aircraft and birds flying around that they can hit, with the potential of loss of an aircraft or loss of life,” said Lt. Col. Wallace Davis, Wing Safety Office chief of flight safety. “Within the flight safety realm, control of that wildlife strike hazard adds not only to the safety of our operations but also the preservation of combat power."

While the biologists use many tools to accomplish their job, their most effective bird-deterrent methods revolve around the use of predatory birds, including Harris hawks, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and goshawks.

"Just having them in the air deters the other birds,” said Michael Grant, Loomacres Wildlife senior wildlife biologist. “It's not any other action, just them being there is the deterrent we need.”

In the air, predatory birds are trained to target species with black feathers, more specifically corvids, which include crows, rooks and jackdaws.

While the corvid species are intelligent, and aren’t often the cause of bird strikes, their presence attracts other species who are a strike risk.

"What happens is when [the corvid species] are sitting somewhere,” Grant said, “it draws in the unintelligent birds like the gulls and the wood pigeon, which are more of a nuisance to the planes. They get hit more frequently, because while the corvids are smart enough to fly away from the flightline, the gulls and the wood pigeons aren't. They go into a panic and go wherever they want."

In addition to the predatory birds, the wildlife biologists also use a variety of other visual and audial deterrents such as crowd-dispersal speakers to keep the flightlines as bird-free as possible.

"Any deterrent tactic that doesn't make them fear for their life,” Grant said, “isn't going to be effective enough to get them to change their behavior."

By using all of these tools in conjunction with one another, the wildlife biologists are able to maintain a mostly bird-free airfield, allowing the Liberty Wing to continue with its mission to provide responsive combat air power and support for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, NATO and European partners.