Endangered owl released in Washington County

January 21, 2014
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An endangered short-eared owl was first spotted around Pittsburgh International Airport in December.
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To minimize conflict with other birds and aircraft, the short-eared owl was transported to Washington County, where it was released on 500 acres of reclaimed strip mine property.

An endangered short-eared owl has a new home in Washington County after it was captured earlier this month on the grounds of Pittsburgh International Airport.

The owl was spotted around the airfield, fairly close to the airport terminal, in late December, said Jeff Martinelli, public affairs manager for the airport.

The bird is endangered and protected under the state’s Game and Wildlife Code. Short-eared owls are medium-sized owls with small ear tufts and round, beige facial disks similar to barn owls. They are most often seen in the late afternoon and at dawn or dusk.

Martinelli said they are considered a regionally endangered species. This area is the on the southern tier of their habitat.

“It is rare that they are this far south,” Martinelli said.

After the bird was spotted, the Allegheny County Airport Authority wildlife team coordinated a plan to protect the bird while also ensuring airport safety. While finding wildlife at the airport is not unusual, endangered species like the owl have to be treated differently, Martinelli said. When the bird is endangered, the airport is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

The authority team, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contacted the National Aviary and state game commission. The game commission gave a trapping permit to capture and relocate the owl.

All four groups worked to remove the owl from airport property. Once captured, the owl was taken to a 500-acre, reclaimed strip mine in Washington County and released. The owls nest on reclaimed and replanted mines.

The airport has a comprehensive, integrated program in place to help minimize conflict between birds and aircraft.

“It is a continuous management program designed to minimize wildlife-related risks,” said Bradley D. Penrod, president and chief strategy officer for the airport authority. “In addition to vigilance and watchfulness, our program implements innovative methods of monitoring and adaption of mitigation techniques.”

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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