Skip to main content

Davis Journal

Raptor relocation program protects birds, prevents aircraft strikes

Sep 16, 2021 09:24AM ● By Becky Ginos

Tyler Adams, a US Department of Agriculture wildlife biologist at Hill Air Force Base with an owl captured near the base’s flight line. The bird will be taken to a new habitat as part of the Raptor Relocation Program. Courtesy photo

HILL AIR FORCE BASE—Wildlife managers at Hill Air Force Base are working hard to find a better home for predatory raptors, not only for their safety but to also prevent possible bird strikes to aircraft. The Raptor Relocation Program is part of the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) program at the base.

“We specialize on raptors, not migratory birds like geese and ducks,” said Ryan Carter, U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife technician. “We trap them on base and release them into a more hospitable habitat.”

It’s a rule of height, he said. “Small hawks are released about 50 miles out and large birds 100 miles out. We try to put a mountain range between us.”

There are two different breeds of hawks in the Wasatch Front area, said Carter. “Our number one focus is raptors but we’re authorized for others. Sometimes we trap owls and migratory birds and move them to a more comfortable area for migration.”

The birds are banded and the information entered into the national database. “The report gives biologists the flight path, history of the banding, species and sex,” he said. “Some have been tracked worldwide. In the 10 years I’ve been here we have yet to have a hawk come back to the base. The bands are bright and easy to see.”

Carter said they are also working on environmental modification at the base. “We’re trying to see it go back to grassy, sustainable plants. There are a lot of broadleaf plants so we want to get rid of some of that because it attracts insects which attract birds. That’s how we control birds in general.”

Besides insect control, they use pyrotechnics and nonlethal harassment to push away the birds, he said. “It lets them know this is not a safe place.”

There are two main traps used, a Swedish goshawk and Bal-Chatri, Carter said. “The Swedish goshawk closes around the bird with netting. There is a mouse under that. When the bird sees that it drops in.”

The Bal-Chatri has a nylon noose tied to a cage that the mouse sits in, he said. “The noose snares the bird’s foot and pulls it tight and then we retrieve it. It’s weighted so the bird can’t fly off and get injured.”

Once the bird is trapped it is put into a transport cage to be relocated. “We take away all sensory overload so it’s quiet, calm, cool and covered in the truck,” Carter said. “Hands on is kept to a minimum so we can get them on their way.”

It’s a really good program, he said. “Our focus is to care for the bird by removing it from hazards and putting it in a safe area for it to continue its lifespan. We put a little bling on their ankles and let them go.”