• Kyodo

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Kansai International Airport has adopted nature’s laws in its efforts to reduce bird strikes on planes, enlisting birds of prey as well as hunting dogs to deter migratory birds from nesting on islands surrounding the airport.

The move appears to be paying off, as bird strikes have reportedly dropped by half.

The airport employs the strategy for 45 days to coincide with the migratory period until the end of May. On days when large numbers of migrant birds are present, six to 10 hawks and other predatory birds are allowed to fly around to scare the feathered visitors away, and about 20 dogs are let loose.

On one recent afternoon, hawks, peregrine falcons and beagle dogs could be seen operating in a vacant lot near the terminal for low-cost carrier Peach Aviation.

They were on the lookout for migratory seabirds such as little terns, which according to operator Kansai Airports feed in the ocean close to the airport. Sometimes, the birds choose to nest on the island.

Little terns arrive to breed in Japan in April and May before flying back to the Southern Hemisphere, where they spend the winter months, in the late summer or early autumn.

Little terns have been added to the Environment Ministry’s Red List of endangered wildlife species and are protected.

However, in recent years Kansai International Airport has seen a marked trend of bird strikes, along with a sharp increase in flights from low-cost carriers. In fiscal 2014, around half of the 43 bird strikes reported involved little terns.

Among the biggest risks of serious accidents are birds sucked into an airplane’s engines.

Until now, watchmen have been making inspections as a countermeasure, but since the birds continue to lay their eggs, this has been largely ineffective.

So in fiscal 2015, the airport requested the cooperation of the Osaka prefectural hunting association and began using hawks, falcons and hunting dogs to scare off birds from around the airport.

As a result, in fiscal 2015 the number of little terns spotted near runways and taxiways dropped by more than 90 percent. And there were just 22 bird strikes reported — nearly half the total of the previous year.

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