Since 1970, there have been 268 airplane crashes around the world involving wildlife.
Don’t worry, Canadian airports take this risk seriously. And if you’re flying out of Halifax International Airport, Derek Forrest will make sure your plane and animals never collide.
Forrest, 44, had no idea he’d end up in a job like this. He joined the army at 17 and learned to operate heavy equipment and armoured vehicles there. In 1987, he got hired at the airport as a heavy equipment operator, and did that job for over a decade.
In the late 1990s, the airport started bringing in an animal control expert, who was also falconer. He came in a just few times a month and was very expensive, so the airport decided to get the job done in-house.
Forrest applied for the newly created job and got it in 1999. He began training in falconry and animal care. Today, Forrest’s falcon and two hawks live in a mews at the airport — it resembles a large shed with an outdoor pen.
The airport is equipped with an electronic speaker system that emits various sounds — like shotgun blasts and wails of gulls in distress — to deter animals.
Forrest keeps traps and snares in the brush areas around the airport and also scares off animals using pyrotechnics he shoots out of a starter pistol.
But the biggest part of his job is running his birds.
By 7:30 every morning, he’s out on the runway with Millie, his lanner falcon.
Her presence scares away seagulls, crows and other birds, as well as some land animals. Unlike a hawk, who will just land on your glove, Forrest has to get Millie back in using meat tied to a lure on a 20-foot string. He whips it up in the air to slow her down from her 200 miles per hour flying speed, and then gets her to land.
The rest of his day is spent checking on his equipment, dealing with animal sightings, and taking out the birds when the runways are clear. He keeps tabs on what’s going on around the airport through a radio in his office that’s tuned into the air traffic controllers and the pilots.
At the first sight of an animal on the grounds, he springs into action. He also tries to prevent animals like coyotes and seagulls from showing up by keeping the grass cut and getting rid of standing water.
“You want to be more proactive than reactive.”
He’s done by 4:00 p.m. every day, Monday to Friday. But the job never really ends: he comes by on the weekends too to feed the birds.