How United Is Working to Save SFO’s Owls

The airline is bringing its “raptor relocation” project to San Francisco.

How United Is Working to Save SFO’s Owls

Barn owls account for 13 perecent of the bird strikes that happen at SFO.

Photo by Shutterstock

After successfully launching its “raptor relocation” project at Newark International Airport in 2017, United is ready to help save birds of prey that live near its West Coast hub in San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Since United launched the program in partnership with Audubon International in Newark, it has successfully relocated 80 birds—mostly American kestrels, otherwise known as sparrow hawks. In San Francisco, the relocation efforts will focus on barn owls, which account for 13 percent of the bird strikes that happen at the airport.

We first partnered with @AudubonIntl at @EWRairport in 2017, relocating at-risk birds from the airport proximity to safer habitats. More than 80 resettled birds later, we’re proud to expand this partnership to @flySFO. #EcoSkies — United Airlines (@united) May 17, 2019

While most bird strikes don’t do any damage to airplanes, SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel told the Chronicle there have been 17 incidents at the airport so far in 2019. United’s program will allocate team members to identify barn owls and other at-risk species that live near SFO’s runways and flight paths. The birds will be trapped and relocated to safer places, such as golf courses, in other parts of northern California.

SFO also employs a full-time biologist to provide information on migratory patterns as well as other strategies to keep birds away from airplanes, including netting and spikes to prevent nesting, decoy coyotes, reflective streamers, and sound-making devices to scare off birds.

Audubon International says that relocating birds of prey to golf courses is mutually beneficial. A golf course provides high vantage points with open views across the fairways and plenty of nesting space for the birds, while the birds rid the golf course of rodents and insects.

This isn’t United’s only project to become more environmentally friendly. In 2018, United began eliminating single-use plastic from its in-cabin service by replacing stirrers and cocktail picks with bamboo versions. It’s also the first global airline to use aviation biofuel regularly, instead of just as a test program.

>> Next: Essential Gear for Better Birding

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at Afar who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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