MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Air Force bases frequently see bird strikes and other wildlife related damages to aircraft. Large birds can also create safety of flight concerns. The United States Department of Agriculture actively works with these bases, including the 167th Airlift Wing, to help mitigate bird and wildlife strikes.
Due to recent construction in the area surrounding the 167th Airlift Wing and the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport (EWVRA), there has been an increase in raptor population on the airfield.
“Things around our airfield are ever changing, and with the development of local farms and increasing habitat fragmentation, it seems our airfield is becoming more and more popular with attracting wildlife,” explained Chad Neil, a USDA wildlife biologist who is tasked with mitigating wildlife related hazards on the airfield. “We have relocated 27 raptors from the EWVRA this past fiscal year, more than double from previous years.”
Neil recognized that additional bird traps were needed to capture the various raptors found on the airfield, which include the Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Coopers Hawk and American Kestrels. After being trapped the birds are fitted with a small leg band and relocated a safe distance from the airfield, typically 50-90 miles away.
While looking for cost effective ways to procure traps, Neil determined that for the price of one commonly available trap, he could purchase the material to have three built with the help of the 167th Maintenance Group’s Fabrication Flight.
Neil pitched his idea to Senior Master Sgt. Brad Teter, 167th Fabrication Flight Chief, who saw the project as a good training opportunity for his newest fabricator and also as a unique way to help the wing.
“We need everyone out here doing their part to make the mission happen,” Teter said. “The less bird strikes we have, the less work that the 167th Maintenance Group has to accomplish to fix the damage caused by bird strikes.”
Tech. Sgt. Tom Glennon, an experienced fabricator oversaw the cutting, fabrication and welding work of Staff Sgt. Zachary Sparber. Together, they worked with the designs Neil provided which were based on Swedish Goshawk traps and made a number of improvements in the process, redesigning certain areas of the trap, and improving the quality while making it smaller and easier to move around.
“They kept in touch to ask our opinions on certain design ideas and eventually I told Tom to just run with it because they were coming up with so many great ideas to make these traps better and I trusted their ideas,” Neil said. “The skillset those folks have in that shop is amazing, and they took a simple design and created something way better than I ever expected.”
Once the traps were completed, Neil set them up on the airfield. Within the first two hours, a Red-tailed Hawk found its way into the trap and was relocated to a wildlife management area recommended by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Peak raptor season tends to run late fall through winter, Neil explained, so the traps will be used daily around the airfield and monitored every two hours.
“Working with Chad and the USDA is another small success in the story of the 167th Airlift Wing,” said Teter.