New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport paid wildlife control contractors to kill nearly 26,000 birds, including 1,600 protected species, in the last 5 years, according to internal records obtained by DNAinfo.com.
A special kill permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service allowed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to shoot the “problem” species, mostly seagulls, geese and mourning doves.
But according to records, between 2009 and 2013, birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, including red-winged blackbirds, snowy egrets and American kestrels, were killed. A total of 1,628 birds from 18 protected species not name on the permits were shot.
The animal advocacy group Friends of Animals recently filed a federal lawsuit to suspend the killing of all migratory birds at JFK.
"It appears they will kill anything they see and they don't think twice about it," Jennifer Barnes, an attorney with Friends of Animals, told DNAinfo.com.
The Port Authority says migratory birds can be shot under the permit in “emergency situations” when they pose a “direct threat to human safety,” except for eagles and endangered or threatened species.
Barnes says the emergency clause gives too much discretion to airports, allowing them to shoot protected animals while skirting fines of up to $15,000 or six months in prison.
"If a bird they kill is not listed on the permit, they never have to explain why they needed to kill that animal, why it was an emergency," Barnes said.
Carol Bannerman, a spokeswoman for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says the vast majority of wildlife at airports isn’t slaughtered.
"More than 90 percent of the wildlife encountered at airports is chased away. Others aren't attracted to the airport due to habitat changes," Bannerman said.
In 2013, planes taking off or landing at JFK hit wildlife on 174 occasions. Only a handful of those strikes caused damage to the aircraft, according to FAA data.