USDA WV Master Bird Bander translocate red-tail hawks

West Virginia’s only master bird bander, Chad Neil, a USDA wildlife airport biologist, holds a red-tail hawk that was caught at the 167th Airlift Wing, Feb. 20, 2018. The hawk was banded and translocated to a wildlife management area in Hardy County, W.Va., Feb. 21.

West Virginia’s only master bird bander, Chad Neil, a USDA wildlife airport biologist, holds a red-tail hawk that was caught at the 167th Airlift Wing, Feb. 20, 2018. The hawk was banded and translocated to a wildlife management area in Hardy County, W.Va., Feb. 21. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jodie Witmer)

Travis Flanagan releases a banded red-tail hawk at a wildlife management area in Hardy County, W.Va., Feb. 21. The hawk was translocated from the airfield at the 167th Airlfit Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va

Travis Flanagan releases a banded red-tail hawk at a wildlife management area in Hardy County, W.Va., Feb. 21. The hawk was translocated from the airfield at the 167th Airlfit Wing, Martinsburg, W.Va. (photo courtesy of Chad Neil)

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --

West Virginia’s only master bird bander translocated a red-tail hawk from the 167th Airlift Wing to a wildlife management area in Hardy County, W.Va., Feb. 21.


USDA wildlife airport biologist, Chad Neil removed the bird from the airfield to reduce a potential threat to aircraft and aviators.


In 2016 alone the U.S. Air Force reported more than four thousand bird strikes totaling more than $20 million dollars in damage.


In 2005 at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., a red-tail hawk pierced the nose cone of a C-17. The pilot equated it to a small rocket hitting the plane.  


The 167th experienced 19 total bird strikes in 2017 and accrued $38 thousand dollars in damage due to replacing one set of fan blades on a C-17 Globemaster III caused by a bird strike according to Senior Master Sgt. Lee Deyerle, 167th flight safety NCO and primary bird/wildlife aircraft hazard (BASH) team member.


The BASH team, comprised of flight safety, airfield management, and Neil, strive to decrease wildlife hazards to aircraft operations.


Since assisting the 167th, Neil has captured eight hawks at the airfield. To Neil’s knowledge only one has returned after being translocated.


According to a study done at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport during 2010-2013, 82 percent of translocated red-tailed hawks did not return to the airport after being translocated.  


Neil uses multiple methods to persuade birds to stay away from the airfield. Pyrotechnics such as screamers, bangers and a pistol that shoots caps are also used to deter birds from being on the airfield. Although, some birds do not respond to their use and simply move to the other side of the airfield.


The hawks are caught using a couple different techniques. All traps are checked and monitored once an hour, but Neil says he tries to do it more to prevent a bird from being entangled for too long.


Once a hawk has been caught, banded, and recorded in the U.S. Geological Survey banding site, it is released at least 50 nautical miles away from the airfield within 24 hours.


Some species of birds, such as eagles, are highly protected and are not harassed or trapped in any way.


“We don’t even look at eagles the wrong way,” said Neil.


Neil noted that he’s only seen one eagle at the 167th.


Depredation is a last resort for removing red-tailed hawks from the airfield at the 167th.