Tinker BASH program gears up for approaching bird migration

  • Published
  • By Mike W. Ray
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Although Oklahomans are still sweltering from summer heat and high humidity, the period when birds will start migrating south is approaching.

"It's still pretty mild up north," but colder temperatures will soon "start pushing them south," said John Krupovage, Natural Resources Manager with the 72nd Air Base Wing Civil Engineering Directorate.

"We are currently in Phase I of our Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard program," which coincides with normally lower bird-hazard levels during the majority of the year, said Maj. Eric Zook, chief of the 72nd ABW Flight Safety Office. However, he continued, "We are nearing the seasonal time for large quantities of birds to begin moving south for the winter."

During the fall, the largest groups of migratory fowl typically transit the Tinker area during the October-November time frame, the major said, "based on how cold weather in the north influences the birds to move south." Last year, "We were well into November before that occurred."

Regardless of when the treks begin, "We work to minimize the impact of bird migrations" on flying operations "through increased vigilance."

Oklahoma lies in the Central Flyway, a migration corridor that's traveled twice a year by more than 10 million migratory ducks and geese flying south in the fall and north in the spring, research and observations indicate. The migratory birds include not only waterfowl but also other meotropical migrants such as loons and grebes, pelicans and egrets, herons and cranes, birds of prey such as hawks, falcons and vultures, and many shorebirds and songbirds, Mr. Krupovage related.

Tinker officials monitor bird flyovers and landings at or near the base. For example, Lake Thunderbird at Norman and Lake Stanley Draper a mile from Tinker are favorite waterfowl rest stops, noted Regi Davis of the 72nd ABW Safety Office.

The Flight Safety Office "relies heavily" on the expertise of the base Natural Resources office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services employees, Major Zook said. They "maintain a high level of bird-activity awareness and inform us of any elevated activity levels" as well as predict early stages of heavy migrations.

"It's optimum to obtain this prediction at minimum of two weeks prior to the anticipated increase in bird activity" in order to get approval from the wing commander to enter the base into BASH Phase II, the major said.

BASH Phase II is implemented whenever real-time data indicate large masses of birds may arrive at or near Tinker AFB. In Phase II, Air Force aircraft are not typically permitted to take off or land one hour before or after sunrise and sunset, without approval from the group commander or higher authority, except in the event of an emergency landing.

"The theory is that there will be fewer bird strikes if fewer airplanes are flying when birds are also flying at the same altitudes around air fields," Mr. Davis said.

Efforts to avoid collisions between military aircraft and birds are proving successful. During the first six months of Fiscal Year 2012, from Oct. 1, 2011, through April 27, 2012, only three bird strikes were reported out of 16,000 sorties, Mr. Davis said. During the same period in FY2013 there were three bird strikes out of 13,000 sorties.

"These are some of the lowest bird strike rates over the last 10 years," Major Zook said. "To put it in perspective, historic bird strike rates ranged from five to 10 per 10,000 sorties between 2004 and 2009."

By not adhering to a set time frame -- as some bases do when implementing BASH Phase II -- "we can reasonably reduce the impact to flying operations from eight weeks down to approximately three weeks," Major Zook said.

Remaining in Phase I as long as possible is "a huge benefit" to Tinker flying operations "in terms of more time available during the day to fly, increased training opportunities, and less strain on mission accomplishment," the major asserted.

Tinker officials can elevate the bird migration condition from low to moderate or severe at a moment's notice any time of the year, "based on observed activity," Major Zook said.
"Our U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services folks spend a lot of time on and around the airfield, monitoring bird and wildlife activity, ensuring this rapid-response capability exists every day."