The Birdmen of Portland Airport

For residents of Portland, Ore., jetting out to escape the winter, Portland Airport inspires various worries — security lines, overstuffed economy seating, concerns about arriving on time and with their luggage. The one thing they probably don’t worry about is birds. That’s not the case for the “birdmen of Portland Airport.” Nick Atwell (pictured), Portland Airport’s Wildlife Manager, and his 5-man team of wildlife experts are the ones making sure passengers don’t have to worry about the plane on which they’re traveling having an up-close-and-personal moment with wild birds. That’s because the crew of bird watchers are on duty 17 hours a day, 7 days a week to ward off bird strikes that can damage and even bring down an airplane. The threats come from larger-bodied, flocking birds that might encounter aircraft on take-off or landing. There are plenty of birds, including kestrels, hawks, and the ever-present geese and gulls in the area. It was a bird strike that led to the 2009 heroics of US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously landed a jet safely in New York’s Hudson River. Nationally, bird strikes inflict $700 million in damages each year. At Portland Airport, the wildlife team employs measures that include horns, sirens, lasers, non-lethal pyrotechnic shotgun blasts, and other forms of “hazing.” On a daily basis, birds are being discreetly encouraged to flock elsewhere.