PA says it will no longer shoot airport owls

Snowy owls are being spotted near the Jamaica Bay area in increasing numbers this year. AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Vernon Ogrodnek
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The borough’s airports will work with the state to humanely remove snowy owls that pose safety threats to aircraft in lieu of shooting them, officials said.

The Port Authority said it is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to put together a program to trap and remove the nomadic birds from John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports.

“The Port Authority’s goal is to strike a balance in humanely controlling bird populations at and around the agency’s airports to safeguard passengers on thousands of aircrafts each day,” the agency said in a statement released Monday night. “Over the past two weeks, five planes at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports were struck by snowy owls that have been migrating to our region in far higher than typical numbers this year.”

There was a news report Monday that Port Authority wildlife specialists had killed three snowy owls over the weekend at Kennedy Airport with shotguns.

During their mating season in May, the owls are found mostly in North America from Alaska to Quebec.

Unlike most other owls, they hunt mainly during the day and are nomadic, following their prey, which include rodents, hares and even small birds. They have been spotted as far south as Texas and Florida.

Bird strikes have been a high-profile issue for the area’s airports ever since 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 piloted by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River after hitting a flock of Canada geese while taking off from LaGuardia.

In the following years officials have culled geese near the airports in an effort to reduce bird strikes, much to the consternation of animal-rights and environmental activists.

Feathered friends are not the only animals that pose safety threats at Kennedy Airport, which sits on the edge of the ecologically diverse Jamaica Bay.

Earlier this year the Port Authority installed a plastic barrier at the end of one of JFK’s runways in order to prevent a booming turtle population from making its way onto the tarmac.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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