Over 60 dead birds found near Oakland Airport

December 30, 2009 6:48:20 PM PST
Oakland International Airport officials are defending their decision to shoot and kill dozens of birds ? ones that otherwise may have put planes in danger. Department of Fish and Game investigators want to make certain that all of the birds were legally killed.

The airport says the birds were shot to keep aircraft safe on landing when dozens of cormorants, ducks, seagulls, and pelicans were found last week. Fish and Game first thought they had a poaching case and it took a full day to find out it was the airport that killed them.

A juvenile and adult Western gull are in guarded condition at the International Bird Rescue and Research Center in Cordeila. They were among 60 birds that washed up on the shores of San Leandro's Oyster Bay on December 23.

The Oakland Airport says that morning a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife specialist shot the birds near runway 29 because they were a threat to approaching aircraft.

"The determination is made by the wildlife specialist and biologists that are out there, and they work there daily, to ensure the safety of our aircraft on takeoff and landing," says Roberto Bernardo, a spokesperson for Oakland Airport.

The U.S.D.A. says the specialist who did the shooting has eight years experience, and he had never seen so many birds, an estimated 2,000 cormorants in that location, and the efforts to shoo them away failed. Fish and Game says the airport has a permit to shoot the otherwise protected birds.

"They can kill them if they are a threat to the airlines," says Fish and Game Lt. Sheree Christensen.

In January, Danville pilot Sully Sullenberger successfully landed his U.S. Airways jet in the Hudson River when both engines quit after hitting a flock of geese.

At SFO birds are shooed away with pyrotechnic and noise makers. Oakland says similar non-lethal noisemakers are successful 90-percent of the time.

Dale Sundquist lives on his boat at the San Leandro marina. He saw about six dead seagulls on December 23.

"I was a little bit concerned more than anything else. Once I heard the explanation I went 'OK, that makes sense. I don't know if they followed the rules or not,' but it made sense," says Sundquist.

Fish and Game says it is satisfied that so far it appears that the airport did follow the rules. The federal government might also be taking a look at this case.

The bird rescue center says that they understand the need for the airport to keep aircraft and the people on them safe, but thinks that the airport should be responsible for the cleanup.