As the capture and relocation of several snowy owls earlier this year shows, the open land that is Wittman Regional Airport attracts all sorts of critters. Their presence, however, poses a risk to the airplanes that roost there.
It’s all about safety, said Airport Director Peter Moll. The FAA requires a year-long study to “capture seasonal and daily patterns of wildlife” when its activity or attraction may result in wildlife strikes. OSH has recorded 10 such strikes between 1990 and 2012, all of them birds.
The USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Wildlife Services of Waupun conducted a year-long study that concluded in late 2012. Wittman recently received the final report, which identified 64 species of birds and 14 different mammals.
The airport responded to the report’s suggested improvements immediately. Operations Manager Chris Hallstrand added a new responsibility, wildlife coordinator. Besides maintaining the necessary permits to manage wildlife, he and his crew will learn new ways to identify and monitor wildlife and their use patterns, and habitat changes and “hazing” techniques that encourage relocation. This goes hand in hand with improved wildlife strike reporting by all airport users.
Days after receiving the final report the Wittman staff received a booklet, which included a map that divided the airport into sections, and a log sheet to record what critter they saw, when and where they saw it, what it was doing (feeding, roosting, etc.), and “what we did to move them along, such as pyrotechnics, vehicles, or trap and release, like the owls,” said Hallstrand.
These observations build in the year-long studies to determine wildlife population, periods of activity, what’s attracting them, like standing water, and their proximity to aircraft operations. This information drives the airports wildlife management plan to reduce hazards. Strikes are most likely between August and November, when more birds are in the area, fledging, and preparing to migrate.
Better wildlife strike reporting is another important part of this process, said Hallstrand. When a pilot or the tower reports a strike, the crew will scour the runway for its remains because knowing the bird’s species determines the most effective method of hazing.
If there isn’t enough left to tell what it was, Hallstrand says, they’ll send it to the Smithsonian Feather Identification Laboratory. There’s also a form to fill out that feeds the airport’s and nationwide FAA strike database. For the time being, the airport office has the forms and will help victims of a strike fill them out.
For the critter curious, during 52 different day and evening surveys the study identified 64 bird species: 31 percent waterfowl (mostly Canada geese and mallards); 25 percent starlings and blackbirds; 16 percent gulls; 9 percent small forest birds; and 7 percent insectivorous perching birds.
In addition to the day and evening surveys, the researchers made a number of seasonal day and night transects of the airport property. They identified mammals from raptor food (the deer and white footed mouse, vole, and masked shrew) to coyotes, red fox, cottontails, feral cats, and 34 white tail deer. Two nighttime spotlight transects revealed raccoons, opossum, cottontails, skunks, and deer.
Surrounded by the lake, parks, farmland, and the city, Wittman Regional Airport is a refuge for many of the areas critters, said Hallstrand, and it’s the airport’s job to make it as inhospitable to them as possible. Achieving that can be as simple as cutting the grass a bit shorter, giving them fewer places to hide.