I was sickened to hear that three Snowy Owls were purposely shot and killed at New York City’s JFK Airport this past weekend. Why? Even though they are protected from trapping and shooting (according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, anyway), they were added to the Port Authority’s list of birds it may kill to protect airplanes from bird strikes after one of them apparently resting (the article uses the term “nesting”) on top of a taxiway sign on a runway got sucked into an airplane turbine. Other birds that have been added to the “kill list” include Canada Geese, Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Rock Pigeons, American Crows, Double-crested Cormorants (huh?) and Mute Swans. Most of these birds gather together in huge flocks – sometimes consisting of hundreds of thousands of individuals – in the winter and during migration, and are considered pests as a result of the noise and the mess they leave behind. Snowy Owls, on the other hand, usually appear in singly or in small groups, and spend most of their time sitting still, whether on a sign, a rooftop, a treetop or the ground. They blend in so well with the winter landscape that most of the time you wouldn’t even notice if one was around.
This is turning out to be another irruption year, with hundreds of these beautiful white owls flying south in search of a safe, food-rich place to spend the winter. Snowy Owls depend on birds and small mammals to survive, in particular rabbits, hares, squirrels, weasels, mice and voles. As a result, Snowy Owls prefer large, open treeless places in which to hunt. With so many owls moving south again this winter, it is clear that there isn’t enough food up north for all of them. They are going to find it difficult enough to survive as it is without being placed on the Port Authority’s “kill list”, which even wildlife experts don’t understand as the owls “are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls.”
Logan Airport in Massachusetts does exactly that – instead of killing these majestic northern visitors, they capture and relocate them to a safer place. Not only that, but Logan Airport even attaches transmitters to the healthiest birds, helping to contribute to our scientific knowledge about these birds’ movements in irruption years. So if Logan Airport has been able to develop a much more humane and enlightened response to this issue, why can’t the New York Port Authority take a page out of their book instead of condemning the owls to death? The answer: one owl got sucked into an airplane turbine, and someone overreacted.
Many people are sickened and concerned by the way the Port Authority is handling this situation. A petition is taking off on Change.org, asking the Governor to stop shooting the owls and to rethink their approach to Snowy Owls and other birds that visit Metro-Area airports. I urge you to sign and share it with as many of your Facebook friends as you can.
If you have a twitter account, please send a tweet to @NYGovCuomo asking him to follow the lead set by Boston and #saveoursnowyowlsNYC.
If you live in New York State, you may also wish to mail, email, or telephone Governor Cuomo and share your concerns.
When it comes to protecting our wildlife, every voice matters.
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UPDATE: WOW! As I was writing this the Port Authority announced that it is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in order to relocate snowy owls and to “strike a balance in humanely controlling bird populations at and around the agency’s airports”. What an awesome job by everyone who voiced their concerns!