One of the falcons that patrols the skies above Mexico City's airport. One of the falcons that patrols the skies above Mexico City's airport. uno tv

Raptors patrol skies above capital’s airport

Birds of prey deter other birds from colliding with airplanes

There is more than just airplane traffic in the air over the Mexico City International Airport, although the millions of passengers landing and taking off there every year won’t notice.

Birds of prey are also aloft, safeguarding passengers against collisions between other birds and planes.

Ilse and Madison are peregrine falcons, two of seven birds deployed at the busiest airport in Latin America to prevent “bird strikes,” hazardous collisions between birds and planes that can have dangerous and even catastrophic consequences.

“It’s dangerous. Birds don’t mix with planes. They can hit a turbine,” said Óscar Chávez, one of the biologists who handle the falcons.

Just last month, a Mexico-bound KLM flight made an emergency landing after hitting birds while taking off in the Netherlands.

The falcons are on duty every day at the airport, which sees 44 million passengers pass through it each year.

“The other birds realize a predator is around and they disappear,” said Nayely Flores, who also handles the birds.

Depending on the weather, the peregrine falcons can soar aloft for two hours at a time, floating in warm air currents while scanning below for targets, their locations monitored through the use of geolocation tags attached to them.

With the recent colder temperatures in the Valley of México, the birds’ forays are shorter, but their goal of keeping other avians such as swallows, kestrels, and kites at bay is still being met.

Prior to 2014, they were allowed to swoop down and kill their prey but stricter environmental regulations mean the birds are now trained only to intimidate their prey to keep them away.

If the birds ever did feed on a protected bird species, the handlers could be fined, Flores said.

Along with the peregrine falcons are Panchito, a blue-gray aplomado falcon, and three Harris’s hawks.

On the ground, meanwhile, is yet another team helping secure the airport. Trained dogs chase birds away from the ground between runways.

Source: AFP (sp)

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