Wildlife biologist Steve Osmek examines an immature Cooper's Hawk that was captured at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Part of Osmek's duties is to make sure nature and planes co-exist safely. Photo: Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times

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Seattle's Biggest Airport Has an Uber for Its Raptors

A special shuttle service for hawks keeps them out of danger—while protecting planes and passengers.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Traveling home after a flight into Seattle-Tacoma airport, you might share a ride on the shuttle with a Red-tailed Hawk. That’s because to protect passengers, planes, and birds, airport biologists Steve Osmek and Bud Anderson capture raptors and relocate them away from the airport. 

In 2013, the biologists moved 86 hawks and falcons, including 23 red-tails and 41 Cooper’s Hawks. Every time the biologists catch a bird, they move it far enough away that it won’t come back. But with Seattle’s famous traffic, especially during rush hour, each journey can take four to six hours. That’s a lot of driving, particularly when you're catching three or four hawks a week.

That’s where Bellair Charters of Bellingham, Washington, comes in. The airporter carries the hawks—at no charge—secured in covered animal carriers, north to safer foraging grounds near Bud’s home in the Skagit Valley.

After weighing, measuring, banding, and tagging the hawks' wings, Bud releases them in wide-open country. “It’s a flat farmland area. It’s loaded with voles. It’s loaded with shorebirds, with starlings, with ducks. And so it supports a high number of hawks. Also, there aren’t too many people and certainly no low-flying jets, so they’re much safer. We take ‘em to what we call a better restaurant.”

You can learn more about Bud Anderson’s decades of work with raptors at birdnote.org.

Sounds of Red-tailed Hawk [51214] provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, recorded by L.J. Peyton. Call of Cooper’s Hawk [140257] G. Vyn. 
European Starlings ambient from Martyn Stewart, naturesound.org.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Airport ambient recorded by J. Kessler
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Written by: Todd Peterson

© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org     February 2014/2016     Narrator: Michael Stein

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