USDA and Airport partner to relocate Kestrels

Thursday, February 15, 2018

American kestrels (Falco sparverius) are the smallest raptor species in North America and, like many raptors, pose a risk to aviation safety. They are avid hunters, colorful, and thrive in open-habitat. American kestrels are identified as persistently posing a threat to safe aircraft operations, with their preferred habitat being open fields with woodland edging, airports often times meet their suitable habitat criteria. To highlight the potential threat to aviation safety, as well as a threat to the rapidly declining species, over 169,800 wildlife strikes with civil aircraft were reported to the FAA from 1990−2015 and 13% of known strikes nationally were caused by raptor species.    

In the aviation realm wildlife-aircraft collisions (wildlife strikes) are inevitable. The severity varies for each strike, but all wildlife strikes pose a serious safety risk to all flight operations.  These strikes cost civil aviation alone an estimated $957 million annually in the United States and have caused 25 fatalities since 1990. 

USDA Wildlife Services personnel working at many of the eastern coast airports are amidst a study to both benefit the American kestrel and enhance aviation safety. Wildlife Services uses a myriad of management techniques to alleviate wildlife threats at airports, but due to the plummeting kestrel population, Wildlife Services is banding and relocating American kestrels in an effort to bolster their survival rate. The study titled “The evaluation of translocation as a management tool for American kestrels in an airport setting” coordinated by the Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center has been ongoing since January 2015 and will conclude December 2020. The main objective of the study is to determine if or when translocated American kestrels return to the airfield environment from which they are captured.

University Park Airport (KUNV) located in State College, PA emphasizes aviation safety and engages in methods to reduce wildlife strikes and is participating in this study. Wildlife Services Wildlife Specialist Samantha DiLorenzo who is stationed at the KUNV captured the first American kestrel to be banded and relocated in Pennsylvania. The banded male American kestrel was safely captured, banded, and relocated approximately 15 miles away to suitable habitat in Bald Eagle State Park with assistance from Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of State Parks.  This American kestrel is just one of many American kestrels during this study that will be removed from hazardous airport environments and released into safer habitats benefiting both bird and aviation.