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Winging it at Albany airport

An uptick in snowy owl sightings thrills local bird enthusiasts

This snowy was spotted recently at the Albany International Airport. There has been an uptick in sightings in the Capital District this year.

This snowy was spotted recently at the Albany International Airport. There has been an uptick in sightings in the Capital District this year.

— “They’re not upset by the planes per se,” he said of the owls. “They can tolerate the noise and move away from it when need be.”

In December, a Connecticut-based animal rights group called Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit against JFK International Airport after it was learned airport workers had been ordered to shoot the birds. The order was reportedly given after an owl flew into an engine while it was on the tarmac. The Port Authority later said it would stop the practice.

Albany International Airport spokesman Doug Meyers said airport officials there are aware of the birds and are concerned for their safety, as well as that of passengers, but added the birds are “living in an area not conducive to their health.”

“We don’t want to see a bird strike the aircraft, and we discourage any type of nesting,” he said.

Meyers said Albany International uses harassing techniques to move the creatures away from the property and have been doing so for years with other types of birds. Operations crews do perimeter checks and use air cannons hooked up to propane tanks, which are shot off occasionally in an attempt to scare the birds. Sometimes a whistling pyrotechnic is used, and the grass is purposely kept long so it’s harder for the owls to spot rodents.

If the irruption lasts much longer, Meyers said, there are discussions being held to possibly call in a trapper to safely move the birds to a different location.

Guthrie said this practice is common and he himself has worked to help trap owls on occasion.

According to Langer, the security team at Albany International has been great about people stopping on the property to watch the birds, as they have in years past.

“I think they know there’s an interest,” Langer said.

Guthrie said seeing the owls might be of great interest to children and is a wonderful learning experience. Harry Potter’s pet in the popular children’s book series was a snowy owl named Hedwig.

It’s also a good first sighting for new bird watchers, however, spectators should remember to keep their distance.

“It’s a whole different experience because these owls come out during the day,” said Langer. “They are very accessible and very photogenic.”

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