SEA-TAC AIRPORT, WASH. - Red-tailed hawk chicks hatched just five weeks ago, but they're already big enough it takes two hands to hold them. In another two weeks, they would start to fly, and for the people who run Sea-Tac airport, that's a problem.
"They're very naive at that age," said Bud Anderson, with the Falcon Research Group.
For more than a decade he's overseen the removal of young hawks from nests sitting high in cottonwood trees surrounding the airport. When the birds start to fly they are very vulnerable to aircraft.
"They don't know what planes are," said Anderson.
Birds are a hazard around airports. So-called "bird strikes" happen when planes hit birds. Most often it's the bird that loses, but large birds have broken through cockpit windows injuring pilots, clogged engines and caused other damage. The most well-known case happened when a US Airways A320 lost power in both engines after flying through a flock of geese on takeoff in New York. The crew safely belly landed the plane on the Hudson river with no loss of life.
Adult hawks are not a problem, says Anderson. There are at least two nesting pairs. Anderson says one is a 12-year-old male who's remained clear of air traffic. Sea-Tac likes the adult hawks because they can help drive out other bird species, but the young are a different story.
The chicks are taken to a farm in Skagit county, where they learn to fly and hunt. Anderson says none of thee chicks has ever returned to Sea-Tac.
A total of five chicks were removed from two nests on Tuesday.