Base is no place for owls
By Olga Purpura-Clark, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
/ Published March 29, 2003
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- As sprawling neighborhoods take over wide-open spaces and devour wildlife habitats, some animals are forced to move to new homes. Sometimes those homes are on military installations.
Most animals pose no threat, but others -- like a pair of barn owls that made their home in a hangar here -- can cause bigger problems.
"They're beautiful birds and ecologically important for natural rodent control but, unfortunately, they can hurt flying operations," said Tim Hunter, an agronomist and the natural and cultural resources manager with the 82nd Civil Engineer Squadron here. Although small, about 18 inches tall and weighing about a pound, an owl colliding with a jet engine during flight can "cause extensive and costly damage and potentially cause a crash and serious injuries to pilots," he said.
As a preventative measure, the owls were moved to a new location.
"I released her near several farms about 25 miles away from the base where there are plenty of barns for roosting and a good food supply," Hunter said. "The farmers welcome this arrangement since the owls keep rodents and other small pesky critters away from their barns and crops."
While owls are nocturnal and hunt prey during the night, they will hunt during the day, especially when hungry young are in the nest, Hunter said.
"You would think this isn't a problem since most flight training takes place during the day," he said. "Odds are the owls and pilots would never cross paths, but eliminating that risk is not even a consideration -- it's a done deal. People safety is our No. 1 priority."
Hunter and entomology shop staff capture animals when they move into flying operations, student and family housing areas.
"It's a common occurrence," he said. "As more areas develop, I expect that we will have more contact with our furry, scaly and feathered friends."
This is what Hunter believes brought the owls to Sheppard.
The pair moved into a hangar, above a dropped ceiling in an office. It was a perfect setting -- quite and very dark.
"This is the time of year barn owls start laying their eggs," Hunter explained. "They have two broods usually in the spring and late summer."
Their home was disrupted when maintenance workers found them while removing ceiling panels.
"When we caught the female, the male was not in the building," he said. So what will happen to the male owl?
"He won't be returning to the hangar," Hunter said. "Maintenance fixed the hole they came in through. By now, he's found another place to live and maybe another girlfriend." (Mike McKito, 82nd Flying Training Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this report. Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)