Birds’ Best Friend?

An airport in Florida has a four-legged solution for keeping birds away from planes.

Airplanes strikes kill more than 10,000 birds annually and can disrupt plane schedules, so airports are always looking for ways keep avians far from runways. The Southwest Florida International Airport has found a particularly adorable solution—a border collie named Aero.

Aero is the fourth border collie the airport has employed since 1999. Her job description includes herding birds away from dangerous areas, and discouraging birds from nesting on airport grounds.

While Aero was specially trained to herd birds without hurting them, her main skill is simply being a dog. Birds are scared of dogs, so keeping Aero around to patrol the grounds keeps birds out of harm's way.

"The dog adds the aspect of a real life 'predator' as opposed to methods such as pyrotechnics which the birds eventually get used to," says Victoria Moreland, the airport's spokesperson. "They never get used to or comfortable with the dog."

Across the United States, airplanes strikes have increased fourfold since 1990. These strikes cost the airline industry more than $700 million dollars of damage, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Airports have all kinds of strategies to keep birds at bay: Pyrotechnics—noisemakers—are used to scare birds away from the fields, as are fake coyotes and fake owls. Deliberate landscaping can further deter wildlife: Grass is kept short and trees and shrubs that attract certain species are cut away.

Aero's hard work—eight hours a day, seven days a week—limits bird casualties to about 35 per year in the medium-sized airport that hosts 82,000 take-offs and landings annually. Other larger airports, like La Guardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport get more than 100 bird casualties every year.

And one-year-old Aero loves her position, her caretakers say. She energetically chases Tree and Barn Swallows, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons and Cattle Egrets to safety.