Birds in the News

Meet the Chinese Military's Elite New Bird-Patrol Squad

The People's Liberation Army deployed a team of monkeys, dogs, and raptors to clear birds from Beijing's military bases before its big parade.

On Thursday a massive military parade proceeded through Beijing—and birds weren't invited. In the lead-up to the event, the Chinese military deployed an animal squadron of monkeys, dogs, and raptors to clear birds out of the area's army bases and keep them away from the military planes flying in formation over the city as part of the parade. Its name? The Bird Squad.

The stars of the squad, which the People's Liberation Army created last year to clear nests from military airports, are five rhesus macaques that have been trained to destroy birds' nests. At the sound of their handler's whistle, the monkeys clamber up trees, locate nests, and pull them apart twig by twig. Each monkey can each dismantle 12 nests a day, with the added benefit that they leave their monkey smell behind, deterring other birds from nesting in the area, wrote the state-sponsored English website China Daily in 2014.  In addition to the monkeys, Saker Falcons were released to chase out birds from the air, while dogs flushed them from their hiding places on the ground.

The parade, which marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II (or, as the PLA calls it, the “Victory of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War"), was designed to be a monumental display of China's military prowess, featuring a procession of tanks, missiles, and about 12,000 soldiers, along with some 200 military planes. The worry was that birds would strike the planes or get stuck in their engines, as they've been known to do. According to articles in the Chinese media, Chinese military sources have said that an estimated 400 species of birds are found in the area, including those that make their way down the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, a migratory route which stretches from Russia over central Asia to Australia. They also noted that many young birds are fledging this time of year, adding to the winged threat fluttering above the city.

Small nesting birds, like those pursued by the Bird Squad's tree-climbing monkeys, don't typically present a serious threat to commercial aircraft—nearly all of the bird strikes that killed or hurt people in the U.S. since 1990 have involved large birds like geese, vultures, pelicans and hawks—but many of the PLA's military aircraft are smaller planes that may be less equipped to handle hits from small birds. "Many of our fighter jets are single-engine, so if they encounter pigeons or balloons during a flight, it's highly likely that airborne objects or debris will be sucked into the engine, which will then malfunction," Fu Jun, deputy commander of a division of the People's Liberation Army air force, told state-sponsored news site China Daily in January

Of course, training monkeys to strategically dismantle nests isn't the only way to disperse birds, and it's probably not the most benign (it may, however, be the most inventive). The PLA did try some other methods, including broadcasting calls of predators like owls and hawks to frighten birds, in the style of audio deterrents like the GooseBuster. And before training the macaques, they tried to clear birds from military airports using scarecrows, bird netting, firecrackers, and even shooting—but the birds would return anyway. Since the parade seems to have gone off without a hitch, it looks like the monkeys got the job done—all in a day's work for the Bird Squad.

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