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Snowy owls to be trapped, not shot, at New York airports

By Allie Malloy, CNN
updated 4:40 PM EST, Tue December 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New York airport officials say they will trap snowy owls seen as threats to air safety
  • Media reports say airport officials had been shooting the birds after collisions with five planes
  • Boston Logan International Airport has long used traps to capture the birds

(CNN) -- Responding to reports that snowy owls were being killed with shotgun blasts, New York airport officials are initiating a program to trap and relocate birds seen as a threat to air safety.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey said in a statement Monday that it would be work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to implement the program.

Numerous media reports cited sources as saying the Port Authority had the snowy owl on its no-fly list, allowing shotgun-toting specialists to shoot and kill the birds. Concerns were raised that the owls were interfering with planes.

"DEC and the Port Authority are working together closely to quickly develop a process to trap and relocate snowy owls that pose a threat to aircraft," the Department of Environmental Conservation said in statement. "This process will provide a humane alternative for the snowy owls while ensuring passenger safety."

In the last two weeks, five planes in New York airports were struck by snowy owls that have been migrating to the region in "far higher than typical numbers," according to a statement from the Port Authority.

The owls have been a concern for decades at Boston's Logan International Airport for decades, where authorities use traps to catch the birds, according to Norman Smith, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Blue Hills Trailside Museum, who heads the initiative.

"I think it's up to each individual airport to provide the safety that they need," Smith told CNN. "Logan Airport has been very supportive about capturing these birds and removing them from the airport."

While Smith acknowledged that it takes more time to trap and later release the birds, he said the effort was worth it.

"Is it more difficult to trap a bird than to shoot one with a shotgun?" Smith asked. "Probably, but what Logan Airport does is, by capturing the birds, they not only protect the aircraft but the bird as well."

Smith said that while snowy owls are not endangered, their numbers are declining and "nobody knows the actual population of these birds.

It's illegal to possess or release migratory game birds and upland game birds without the proper license from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

"The Port Authority's goal is to strike a balance in humanely controlling bird populations at and around the agency's airports to safeguard passengers on thousands of aircraft each day," the agency's statement said.

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