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A bad day to be a bird

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ned T. Johnston
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Leaning over a guard rail atop a 137-foot air traffic control tower, a wildlife biologist stares fear and the ground straight in the eye as he meticulously loops and knots a fishing wire, tethering an 8-pound vulture effigy to the side of the tower.

This sounds both dangerous and a little strange to the average person, but for Kory McLellan and his partner, Ryan Lynch, this is just another day on the job.

McLellan and Lynch work for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are a part of the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) team on MacDill Air Force Base. Their mission is to ensure that the wildlife on MacDill do not cause a catastrophic collision with any of the aircraft on or around its airspace.

Lynch and McLellan joined the team in 2014, and there has not been a wildlife strike since. They have accomplished this through a myriad of techniques. Whether it is pyrotechnics or placing exclusionary devices to disperse wildlife, or filling holes under fences to prevent land animals from gaining access to the base, the BASH team is dedicated to the safety of the wildlife, crew and the aircraft.

Additional to those tactics is the hanging of effigies. An effigy is a life-like representation, in this case a vulture, that is hung from a high vantage point so that other vultures will see it. Effigies more or less work as a scarecrow, scaring other vultures from the area.

"Vultures do not respond well to effigies of their own species," said McLellan. "They think the effigy is a real dead bird, and it frightens them, which is exactly what we want. Vultures have an affinity to chew on the rubber material around the tower windows and the roofing sealant, which causes leaks in the roof and the tower windows."

The thought process is to hang an effigy on the side of the tower near the windows and another on the top of the roof, and the vultures will find another tower to terrorize.

"The goal is to make wildlife as uncomfortable as possible in and around the airfield," said McLellan. "Although we don't use the effigy technique often, it is example of the many effective techniques we employ."

Only time will tell if the vulture effigies will reach the desired affects, but with a track record like Ryan and Kory's, it looks like a bad day to be a bird.