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Big bang theory scares birds at airport

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When Columbus Municipal Airport officials buy fireworks every year, it’s not for the Fourth of July.

On hot and dry days year-round, exploding Bird Bangers and propane cannons are used to startle and scare off birds and wildlife trying to make the airport their home.

Airport Director Brian Payne said his crew started adding “frightening wildlife” to their workload after large numbers of birds began to show up near runways during migratory periods, usually in the spring and fall.

Keeping birds and wildlife off the runways makes flying safer because aircraft can crash if a bird hits a plane windshield or is sucked into an engine. These incidents are called bird strikes, which have the potential to damage the aircraft or cause an engine to lose power.

Most of the birds found at the Columbus airport are European starlings, horned larks and a variety of smaller birds, Payne said.

After comparing best practices at other airports, including Indianapolis International, fireworks became part of the local wildlife-mitigation plan.

Airport employees were trained in hazing techniques for wildlife, Payne said. Part of the hazing involved bird-control pyrotechnics, recommended through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Essentially (the) propane cannon will send off a blast every 15 to 20 minutes,” he said. “It just kind of keeps the birds stirred up, and hopefully that will engage them enough to want to move on somewhere else.”

Birds aren’t necessarily attracted to airport tarmacs, nor do they love planes, said Dan Wood, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge assistant manager.

But Wood suspected the Columbus airport might see more birds because it is surrounded by large grassy areas and nearby grain fields, and most of the blackbirds are accustomed to humans.

Cold temperatures this winter meant more birds migrated farther south than normal, Wood said. That could mean more birds will be traveling north this spring through this area, he said.

The airport owns two propane cannons, which are moved around depending on where birds are located. The airport may purchase two more of the $400 cannons if they are needed, Payne said.

“It’s just kind of a trial technique we’ve found, and they actually work pretty well,” he said.

The cannons create a loud noise resembling the sound of a gunshot that startles the birds.

The Bird Bangers are paper cartridges, shot out of a special pistol. Rounds travel 50 to 125 feet and then explode but do not harm the birds. The cartridges do not contain buckshot or projectiles.

Payne said the airport uses hundreds of rounds every year to scare the birds away and keep runways clear.

He believes the devices are making a difference for pilot safety.

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