Airport tries new way to deal with fowl issues

Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Kenai Municipal Airport began training their bird control dog this week.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Rose chases along the shore of Float Plane Lake at Kenai Municipal Airport on Wednesday morning during a training session. Kenai and Soldotna plan to use the dog to keep birds from taking up residency on the airport grounds.

Dog handler Jane Brogan has instructed airport staff on how to bird haze with their border collie Rose. Brogan, of the California-based Dog & Whistle Goose Control, came up with the program of using dogs as bird abatement in all sorts of public areas, like airports and golf courses.

Olivia Pfeifer, a student at Kenai Central High School, and airport maintenance man Matt Landry have learned the basic obedience commands and protocols. Pfeifer, who brought Brogan to the Peninsula, and Landry said that they know how to send the dog after birds and call her back.

"The dog will haze and harass birds," Brogan said. "It'll make them feel so uncomfortable that they'll fly away."

Birds can crash through aircraft's windshields or congest the engines.

Pfeifer initiated the $5,000 program when she won a Caring For The Kenai award. She will work at the airport over the summer as a dog handler with Landry.

The two trainees said that they had to leave the airport to find birds to test Rose on. Landry blamed the lack of avian life on scarce fish and local construction. He said that birds usually flock to the airport in July.

"They'll be around," said airport manager Mary Bondurant.

Handlers guide the dog to birds with verbal commands and use a sheep herding whistle to call the collie back when she's out of shouting range.

"It's like learning a new instrument," Landry said of the whistle.

Bringing the dog back is important because dogs are not allowed to go after hurt or crippled animals.

"Another predator will probably kill a hurt bird anyway," said Brogan. "But at least that way we won't have my dog attacking them."

Bondurant said that the dog will be on call 40 hours a week at Kenai and Soldotna's airports. Pfeifer believes that the dog has the stamina to keep up with the long hours because border collies are a working breed known for their energy.

"She spent all day running around, chasing birds," she said. "Then I took her for a walk with my other dogs and she was still the most energetic."

In the past the airport scared birds away by chasing them with vehicles, firing pyrotechnic shotgun shells, and, as a last resort, killing the birds, said Landry. But the birds often moved farther down the runway or returned the next day, he said. Brogan believes that the birds will stay away because of the presence of the natural predator.

The airport chased off more than 1,500 birds last summer and killed more than 100, according to Bondurant. Last summer Landry said he had to deal birds at least five times a day, sometimes 15.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com



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