Snowy owls are in the crosshairs at New York’s J.F.K. International Airport this week after Port Authority deemed them a potential hazard to planes during takeoff and landing. Last weekend, the airport’s wildlife specialists (a.k.a. dudes in SUVs armed with noisemakers, lasers, and shotguns) dispatched at least three with birdshot, prompting public outcry from wildlife lovers and Harry Potter fans alike.
Much to the delight of bird watchers, snowies migrate south from the Arctic into the northeastern United States during the cold weather months. Unfortunately, the diurnal owls like to congregate near long, flat, tundra-like expanses such as runways. According to the New York Daily News, the trouble began when one unfortunate Hedwig got sucked into a turbine while nesting atop of a taxiway sign, prompting officials to add owls to an extensive wildlife kill list that already includes pigeons, geese, and adorable bunnies.
We all remember how dangerous those geese can be to aircraft (and don’t you worry, several hundred of them have since been sent on a trip to Belize), so aviation safety is certainly a concern. But as it turns out, the public is not quite as forgiving about extermination campaigns leveled against rare owls. A petition with over 4,000 signatures quickly made its way to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk, calling the airport’s owl decision “deplorable” and wondering why the snowies couldn’t simply be trapped, relocated, and studied like they are in Boston.
So perhaps because New York is loath to let Boston beat it at anything, the airport announced Tuesday that it too will begin relocating the snowies instead of killing them. As far as wildlife controversies go, this one turned out to be surprisingly mild. Then again, nobody really wants to be on the wrong side of a PR debacle involving every child’s favorite bird. Keep the planes safe, keep the birds safe—everyone’s happy. I think we can all pretty much agree that this is a win for conservation and common sense in general.
Now, back to those guys who apparently just drive around the runways all day with shotguns…?
Trent Knoss is the digital editor at Backpacker Magazine and lives in Boulder, Colorado.