Hawk chicks rescued from nests near Sea-Tac runways




Posted on May 21, 2014 at 6:17 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 21 at 6:47 PM

SEA-TAC INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Wash. — Imagine being 100 feet up in a tree and pulling chicks out of a nest. That may sound harsh, but it could keep your next flight at Sea-Tac from crashing.

Another spring, another pair of red tailed hawk chicks are rescued from a nest. Why? Because the birds are too close to Sea-Tac Airport’s runways.

Collisions are dangerous for people on planes and really bad for the birds.

John Mayet is an arborist – a tree guy, but he’s been handling these retrieval duties for years on behalf of biologists.

“We’ll take these (chicks) up north, we tag them all and that way we know if they’ve come back to the airport,” said Mayet.

Mikki Viehoffer is with the Port of Seattle’s wildlife program.

“They are upset right now,” said Viehoffer, of the chicks’ parents. “They’ll circle around the tree.”

The chicks are about 3 to 3.5 weeks old, taken from a nest under the landing lights. But in another three to four weeks, these fast growing chicks would be fledging, and the middle of an airborne freeway is a bad place to learn how to fly.

Raptor biologist Bud Anderson has done this for a long time, but he’s not worried about the adult hawks who already know how to avoid the jets.

“We’d rather have them stay here and because if we shot them, that would leave a vacancy for another hawk to come in that’s less experienced,” said Anderson.

But while the hawk program is well established, ospreys living and nesting on cell towers is a recent problem.

“It’s new for the Pacific Northwest,” said Anderson.

The Port of Seattle is seeking more help from cell companies to set up wire “excluders” to keep the birds off and away from the airport.

“If a bird is raised on a tower, they have a good likelihood of coming back and building and returning to nest in that tower,” said Steve Osmet, Sea-Tac biologist.

After the chicks are placed in a box, it’s off to Skagit County for the babies. There they will be raised and released as wild birds, unlikely to return to the airport where they were hatched.

Bird strikes happen. About three weeks ago several miles from the airport a horizon flight was hit by a young bald eagle, but over the last three years, the airport says number of bird incidents has been cut in half.