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NEWS Last modified on January 13, 2015

Owls spotted near Pittsburgh ushered to safety

The Allegheny County Airport Authority (ACAA), along with state and federal agencies, have worked together to protect and usher owls at Pittsburgh International Airport to safety.

The medium-sized short-eared owls were spotted on the edges of the airport’s size by employees at Pittsburgh, and have small ear tufts on the top of the heads, and round, beige facial disks similar to barn owls.

They are often observed at dawn or dusk, and roost on the ground. Pennsylvania is considered the southern edge of their breeding range in North America.

Ben Shertzer, ACAA wildlife administrator, explains: “When these species are identified on airport land, the authority’s wildlife management team works with environmental regulatory agencies to protect these species and maintain the day-to-day safety of airport operations.”

ACAA, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), The National Aviary and the Pennsylvania Game Commission worked together earlier this week to trap, band and relocate three owls from the airport to a more suitable location about 25 miles away.

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Birds at airports present a significant threat to aircraft safety, but when the bird is endangered, the airport is required by the US Fish and Wildlife Service or a state wildlife agency to comply with rules to protect the bird, such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The USDA biologist at the airport obtained the proper permission, including trapping permits and relocation clearance, in order to capture the owls, which are considered endangered.

Staff of the National Aviary examined and banded the owls in an effort to gain more information about the species.

“Now that the owls are banded with an individual serial number and information about the time, date and location where captured, we can better identify and study their behaviours,” Shertzer says, and adds that these are not the same owls the agencies relocated from the airport last January.

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Pittsburgh has a comprehensive, integrated wildlife management programme, implemented by Bobby Hromack, a wildlife biologist with the USDA, and Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist with the National Aviary, and Tammy Colt, a wildlife biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, assisted in relocating the owls.

The same species of owl was also observed at and relocated from the airport last year.

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