As the number of airplanes striking birds climbs in Wichita and many cities nationwide, officials at Mid-Continent Airport are exploring ways to manage wildlife beyond the airport's property.
That could include things like chasing birds off public land, changing the shape of future retention ponds and recommending what types of vegetation grow around them.
"We think we're doing a very good and effective job of wildlife management on our property," said Brad Christopher, Mid-Continent's assistant airport director. "The problem is, it's about the population and it's about what's going on around our properties."
Airport officials will discuss those ideas with City Council members at workshop at 9:30 a.m. on May 25 at City Hall.
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The number of bird strikes is increasing as large bird populations grow and airports become more diligent about reporting strikes. Until recently, most animal strikes were not reported in Wichita or across the nation. Reporting is voluntary.
Wichita's airport logged a record-setting 34 bird strikes last year. It has recorded six so far this year.
The numbers include commercial, cargo and private flights.
Of the 238 wildlife strikes at Mid-Continent between 1990 and 2009, 13 led to precautionary landings and two led to aborted take-offs. No injuries were reported.
But cases like the crash of an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River and successful rescue of its passengers last year have highlighted how a flock of Canada geese can bring down a jet.
Pyrotechnics and guns
Several people are responsible for keeping curious and hungry
animals away from passenger-
packed jets at Mid-Continent Airport.
But the bulk of day-to-day activity rests with Devon McBride, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture assigned to the airport.
He and Christopher said they use specific types of grasses and trees to discourage birds.
And McBride drives the airfield using a variety of pyrotechnic explosions to scare birds away.
When the birds get used to it and stay on airport property, the airport has permits to kill certain species with pellet guns, rifles or shotguns.
The number of kills was not immediately available.
But McBride said in many cases he will repeatedly scare large flocks or birds before killing one.
Some species recognize when one of their flock die and leave. Others, such as gulls, will sometimes hover over one of their dead flock mates, making it a more dangerous situation for airplanes, McBride said.
So he acts accordingly.
Officials also treat bird eggs with oils that kill the baby birds inside the shell without the mothers knowing it.
If they were to just take the eggs, the mothers would lay new ones.
Officials focus largely on Canada geese because of their size and large population in the area.
In most cases, the species involved is unknown. But at least 40 different species have been hit at Mid-Continent Airport and identified, according to an analysis of federal data.
The most hit bird is the meadowlark — struck 16 times since 1990. It's unclear how many of them were western meadowlarks, the state bird.
Meanwhile, two striped skunks, two possums and one coyote have been hit, data shows.
The coyote was struck in 1997 near the taxiway, and reports indicate four other coyotes were later found digging under a fence line.
About a year and a half ago, Sedgwick County commissioners debated and eventually approved a permit allowing Baughman Co. to excavate a 31-acre site that would retain water as a feature of a future residential development.
Airport officials opposed it because water attracts more birds, which could lead to more bird strikes.
The pond at 55th Street South just west of Tyler Road has apparently not been built yet. Officials with Baughman could not be reached for comment.
Such ponds are common in new developments because they provide drainage from impervious areas created by homes, driveways and other development.
Christopher said it's difficult to balance the needs of reducing flooding with the need to limit bird populations that threaten air traffic.
But he said he and others will try to find ways to deal with both issues.
Wichita may not have had any major problems with bird strikes yet, he said.
"But am I willing to take that chance with my family on the airplane or yours?" he asked. "What would you prefer I do?"