Snow birds are causing trouble at Toronto airports

by Alyssa Daniells

Don’t be alarmed—Canadian travellers still have great reputations when we migrate south.

A different kind of snow bird—the snowy owl—is what has Toronto airports on high alert.

Snowy owls are migrating to Toronto en masse, which is beyond their normal boundary, an occurrence termed as an “irruption.” The Arctic birds have been settling in at Toronto Pearson International Airport and Billy Bishop Airport, the city’s island airport.

snowy owl babyWhy the airports when the owls  already can fly? Joking aside, it is a serious concern as the birds can get trapped in airplane engines, causing obvious harm to the owls and endangering the safety, even lives, of airplane passengers. The Arctic birds find airports appealing because of their vast, tundra-like layouts and many rodents who gravitate to the runways for warmth in winter.

Bird strikes, large birds flying into engines is already a big concern for airports all over and measures beyond a “wing and a prayer” are instituted to prevent avian creatures from entering the airspace. Snowy owls can reach up to 5 pounds, which is a weight that can seriously endanger aircraft engines.

Falcon Environment Services Inc. takes care of wildlife management at the Toronto Pearson International Airport and acts as consultant to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. In December alone it captured fourteen “snowies” at the latter airport. Falcon then records their age and gender, tags them and safely relocates the owls up to 70 kilometres away.

The return rate is only two percent, which proves Falcon’s work effective.

This is the second year in a row that the snowy owl irruption has caused concern. More disconcerting is that some snowies have been found as far south as the Bahamas, a climate and distance that is likely fatal.

What is reassuring is that Falcon tracks the migration of the birds and airports are being proactive. Flying is always a concern for them, including the safety of our fine feathered friends.