The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has added the snowy owl to the list of birds it kills to protect airplane engines.
“Wildlife specialists” began killing the owls on Saturday. Three were shot at John F. Kennedy International Airport with a shotgun, a Port Authority source told New York Daily News.
“These are beautiful birds that I or anyone else I know who has worked at JFK have never heard pose a problem,” the source said. “Even a wildlife specialist didn't understand why they were being killed because they are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls.”
The Port Authority alleges that one of the white owls was recently nesting on a taxiway sign on the airport runway and was reportedly sucked into a plane’s turbine.
Boston's Logan Airport has a similar problem with snowy owls, but they don't kill the birds, instead they trap and release them elsewhere.
The Port Authority reportedly has fewer than five wildlife specialists who bear shotguns filled with buckshot.
“Isn’t there any other way?” asked wildlife photographer Lillian Stokes. “Just at a time when all these owls are coming down and people are getting to see them.”
Snowy owls are Arctic birds that fly south as low as North Carolina during the winter as their food supply dwindles.
“I’m loath to second-guess aviation professionals, but clearly snowy owls commonly use airports and don’t seem to be a species that's involved in dangerous collisions,” said Jeff Gordon, president of the American Birding Association. “Because of the interest in these birds and their relative rarity, I would hope that all their other options had been eliminated before they got to this point.”
The Port Authority already launched a campaign against Canada geese, considered the biggest threat to air travel. More than 1,000 geese were caught and gassed near Rikers Island from 2003 to 2009.
In Jan. 2009, a US Airways Flight out of LaGuardia Airport hit a flock of Canada geese during takeoff, causing both engines to fail, and had to be “ditched” in the Hudson River. All passengers survived and Captain Chesley Sullenberger was lauded for the “Miracle On The Hudson.”