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‘Miracle on the Hudson’ legacy: the 70,000 birds are killed

Passengers in an inflatable raft after an Airbus 320 US Airways jet landed on the Hudson River in New York in 2009.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

NEW YORK – the Birds took the blame for the reduction of the jetliner that “Sully” Sullenberger landed on the Hudson River eight years ago this weekend. They are to pay for it with their lives since then.

An Associated Press analysis of the bird-killing programs in the New York City area’s three major airports found that almost 70,000 gulls, starling, geese and other birds are killed, usually by shooting and trapping, since 2009 an accident, and it is not clear whether these killings have made the skies safer.

Federal data show that in the years after the bird-killing programs, LaGuardia and Newark airports increased in response to the powerful landing, the number of recorded collisions of birds with the airports actually went.

Combined, the two airports went from an average of 158 strikes per year in the five years prior to the accident, to an average of 299 per year in the six years after, but that could be due to more diligent reporting of such incidents.

On the coast Kennedy Airport, which is located on a major route for migratory birds and had a robust slaughter program before the Flight 1549 crash, the number of reported strikes has checked, while the number of birds killed, there is slightly decreased in recent years.

The advocates for the birds say officials need to find other, more effective ways to protect aircraft.

“There should be a long-term solution that does not rely as extensively on the killing of birds and also keeps us safe in the sky,” said Jeffrey Kramer, of the group GooseWatch NYC, suggests a better radar systems for the detection of problematic herds.

Officials involved in the bird-kill programs say that they believe that they have made flying safer, with their strongest argument is that there is no evidence of a major crash with a bird strike in the vicinity of New York since the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

“We do our best to reduce the risk as much as possible,” said Laura Francoeur, the chief wildlife biologist at Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the airports. “There is still a lot of chance involved.”

That was the case on Jan. 15, 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia and almost immediately rose in a flock of large canadian geese. Two engines were knocked out. Sullenberger guided powerless jet on the Hudson River and slid her down safely in the cold water. All 155 occupants survived.

Sullenberger became a national hero. Geese were public enemy No. 1. They were focused around LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports by wildlife officials with shotguns. In some cases, birds were caught in traps and killed.

But the Port Authority data of the bird-slaughter campaigns around the three major New York City-area airports between 2009 and October last year, thousands of smaller birds were also swept.

Of the 70,000 birds were killed at that time, the most gender were gulls, with 28,000 dead, followed by 16,800 European starlings, with almost 6,000 brown-headed cowbirds, and about 4,500 mourning doves. Canada geese come in a little further down the list, with approximately 1,830 death.

While the plane hit the birds over New York on a daily basis, incidents resulting in damage to an aircraft are relatively rare and usually larger species of birds.

Of the 249 birds that damaged a plane from 2004 to April of last year, 54 were gulls, 12 osprey, 11 were double-crested cormorants, and 30 were geese, according to the Federal Aviation Administration data. The species was not known in 69 cases.

Close to 35,000 European starlings were slaughtered at the three airports in that period, but only one was involved in a strike that actually damaged aircraft.

A starling, probably with a weight of less than 3 grams, hit a flight of JetBlue come in for a landing at JFK on Sept. 10, 2008, to the breaking of a taxi light. The FAA included 138 other bodies of the European starlings hit by aircraft, over which tens of years without any damage to the aircraft.

The history serves as a reminder that the starling, while small, can still be dangerous. A flock of the birds was the fault of one of the most deadly bird strikes in the history, 1960 crash in Boston killed 62 people.

Francoeur noted that lethal control represents only one way in which airport officials are trying to keep birds out of a 5-mile radius around the airports’ runways.

Officials trap and move a number of birds, use of fireworks and lasers spread to others, and even the habitat surrounding airports by the planting of grass and trees or the introduction of certain insects to discourage nesting.

Last year, the port authority signed a five-year, $9.1 million contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture research, management and research of the wild animals around the airports.

At JFK, an official with a 12 gauge shotgun to shoot the birds from May to October as part of the Bird Hazard Reduction Program, aimed at reducing the Laughing Gull colony in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which exploded in size.

“One must take into account the consequences if this proven shooting program was discontinued, and a serious bird strike occurred while the colony was still present,” Port Authority documents state.

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