The quack of geese echo through the marshland air of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, but their calls do little to silence the chug of boats and trains across the river in New York City. Look across the water and you can see the skyline of Queens. Look up, and if you don’t see a bird you’re likely to see a plane, taking off from JFK Airport, or LaGuardia just a few miles away. Where the city has nature and man divided, in the sky both have free reign. Without paths and borders, birds and man collide – literally – flying into each other at high velocity a few times each year. We’re still not sure who’s winning.
It was in 2004 that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began to exterminate geese from the New York Metro Area in response to bird strikes by aircraft, which had damaged planes at LaGuardia nine times in the five years prior. Although most collisions don’t force emergency landings, they do have the potential to dent fuselages, shatter windshields and ruin engines. In January 2009, just three miles into a New York flight bound for Charlotte, NC, a flock of geese hit the plane and forced Capt. Chesley Sullenberger to land the vessel on the Hudson River. In the year that followed, 1,276 geese were removed from the city.
Turtles have also been known to wander from the Jamaica Bay into the domain of airplanes, but their removal from the tarmacs have paled in comparison to the smotherings of eggs and the gassings that have taken place in the removal of geese, who are often targeted in the early summer months, when they lay sedentary in the local New York City parks. As recent as this July, geese were rounded up into crates at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to be euthanized and shipped to meat pantries. To some, this is a necessary measure to ensure air passenger safety and prevent future strikes. To others, it seems cruel to kill birds with no intention in leaving the sky they have occupied since long before they were joined by the hum of the plane engine.