Birds can crash into planes and cause serious damage. Planes at Barcelona’s El Prat, for instance, receive some 22 collisions a year from birds. Airports throughout the world use a variety of methods to control their presence, but the most efficient has proven to be the use of trained falcons. Emitting the sounds of birds of prey or using flares have only a short-term effect, although new techniques may prove more successful. The birds get used to living with these so-called threats and the danger of collision returns. 95% of airports in Spain use falcons as a deterrent. There is for instance a “fleet” of 70 peregrine falcons at Barajas Madrid. Forestman reminds us with this video the role played Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente in setting up the first falconry units at Spanish airports.
Malaga Airport uses a falconry service made up of three falconers, a tutor dog (working in conjunction with the falcons) and a team of falcons and eagles (of the Harris species). Fully-experienced in the complexities of falconry, they patrol the airport grounds every day combining their techniques: waiting on and out of hood or similar, thus creating an area that is completely prohibited to all other birds.
With the waiting on technique, the falcon flies in concentric circles over the falconer and the dog. When the birds go into hiding, the dog helps to flush the prey, startling the birds to take flight, which are then caught by the falcon. With the out of hood and similar techniques, the birds go from the falconer’s fist to catch their prey. The main differences between the waiting on technique and out of hood and similar is that the latter are direct attack techniques, used to control rabbits and hares, herons, seagulls and the like, whilst the former is used mainly as a preventive measure.
The birds of prey currently used at the airport are employed to scare away bird fauna. Every day an average of six birds make deterrent flights of between ten to thirty minutes. The time and place are never repeated to ensure that the invading birds do not get used to a behavioural pattern that they will eventually get to know and, therefore, evade.
The majority of the time, the flights are preventative, with no attacks and expulsions. When the flocks are located, the falconer sets the falcon loose to drive the birds away from the airport grounds. Birds of prey always perform a natural selection process and choose the weakest bird that is less lightly to survive.
Before taking flight, the falconers weigh the falcon or Harrishawk (Parabuteo unicintus). Weight control determines, amongst other aspects, the aggressiveness of the bird of prey. The less they weigh the more aggressive they are and with greater desire to hunt. Furthermore, the bird of prey is tagged with a small radio transmitter on its tail that enables easy and permanent localisation.
The falconers train the birds of prey at the airport and training can last up to three to four months. During this period, by rewarding certain behaviour and punishing others, the falcon or Harris hawk is turned into a relentless hunter.
Malaga Airport also has a breeding programme for Harris hawks to ensure the maintenance and development of a service that helps, day after day, to make air traffic safe. Read Falconry at Malaga airport
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