Wildlife can often be a nuisance for airports. Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield uses a variety of methods to reduce the risk of collisions between wildlife and aircraft.

There were three collisions between birds and aircraft at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport through mid-2009, involving an American coot, an unknown bird and an unknown bird or bat.

Federal data shows annual bird strikes at the local airport typically were a dozen or fewer in the past decade. Strikes usually involved small birds such as starlings, hawks, sparrows and doves, with an occasional gull.

“There are bird strikes at airports,” said Mark Hanna, executive director of the Springfield airport. “It happens all over the nation at big airports and small airports. We have a wildlife management program … which provides for routine monitoring and assistance if we need it.”

Hanna said airport personnel also are trained in wildlife management, including recognizing and reporting on wildlife species. The American coot is a common water bird often mistaken for a duck, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

While collisions with deer, coyote, dogs and opossums have been reported at other Illinois airports — including O’Hare International Airport in Chicago — a perimeter fence keeps most four-legged creatures away from Springfield runways.

Hanna said a wildlife management plan also dictates the height of grass and the type of crops allowed on farmland owned by the airport.

“We don’t allow them to plant sunflowers. That’s a huge bird attractor,” Hanna said.

Laser beams, pyrotechnics

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife services office in Springfield advises 28 Illinois airports, including Abraham Lincoln Capital and O’Hare, on ways to keep wildlife away. The same office helps with relocation of intruders.

State director Scott Deckerman said measures taken at the local airport are used at a variety of airports, including ground-level barriers to keep out deer and coyotes, managing grass and brush, bird distress calls, using laser beams at night to frighten birds away from terminals (lasers aren’t used near aircraft) and loud fireworks.

Even a fence is no guarantee, especially for coyotes, Deckerman said. “They’ll dig under a fence, or if there’s a drainage area, they’ll crawl under that,” he said.

Traps are used to relocate birds, which in the case of hawks can involve a long trip, Deckerman said.

“We take them 100 miles from the airport. It has to be quite a distance because they are very mobile birds,” Deckerman said, adding that the agency is nearing completion of a yearlong analysis of wildlife activity at the Springfield airport in preparation for updating the management plan.

Deckerman said O’Hare is the third airport in the nation to experiment with an avian radar system, devised by the University of Illinois, that would allow airports to track flights of birds. Steps then can be taken to divert the birds from aircraft.

Surrounding habitat

The wide-open spaces at the airport and nearby Sangamon River are natural attractions for birds of prey, such as hawks, and waterfowl, such as geese and ducks, said Tim Santel, resident agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Springfield.

“The hawks prefer an open area for hunting with some edge cover. It’s a situation where you may have waterfowl or small animals in an open area,” he said.

Santel said the Canada goose population has “exploded” in recent years, including in Illinois.

Local airports are not the only place there has been an increase in encounters between wildlife and humans, he said.

“We’ve had similar conflicts with subdivisions,” Santel said. “People want to live in that kind of area and get upset when they have a raccoon in their attic or a deer in their prized garden. We’re moving into their habitat areas, and there are conflicts. If you choose to live by a lake, you’ll have geese.”

Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or tim.landis@sj-r.com.

Most often hit

Here's a look at the most frequently hit birds by species at national airports from 1990-2009:

American kestrel (sparrow hawk): 325

Gull: 288

Red-tailed hawk: 137

Ring-billed gull: 166

Canada goose: 117

Mourning dove: 101

European starling: 93

Rock pigeon: 83

Sparrow: 77

Killdeer: 73

NOTE: 1,030 were classified as “unknown.”

Source: Federal Aviation Administration, national wildlife strike database

City vs. state airport wildlife strikes, 1999-2000

Year Abraham Lincoln
Capital Airport All Illinois
Airports 1999 2 255 2000 8 297 2001 7 283 2002 6 283 2003 11 281 2004 12 303 2005 13 284 2006 10 326 2007 12 278 2008 6 329 2009 3 (through mid-July) 181 (through July 31)