UPDATE: Following media reports on the killing of snowy owls at JFK Airport, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has tweeted that they are working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in order to "relocate #snowyowls that pose threat to #JFK & [LaGuardia] aircraft." David Karopkin, founder of Goose Watch NYC, responded to the incident, saying, “You’re not going to the heart of the issue. You’re not addressing what’s attracting the birds around the airport," according to CBS News New York.
Port Authority workers shot two snowy owls at John F. Kennedy Airport with a shotgun on Saturday, following an order to kill any owls spotted there to ensure none flies into a jet's engine, NBC 4 New York reports.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued the order after an owl flew into a plane's engine last week while the plane was on a Kennedy tarmac. Bird interception by engines can destabilize an aircraft's flight—as in 2009, when a Canada goose caused a commercial airplane to land in the Hudson River. Bird strikes can also cost an airline millions of dollars annually, according to a report by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The risks are higher this year, as an influx of snowy owls has flown into the northeastern United States from the Arctic, says CBS Boston, possibly because of a shortage in food.
A wildlife specialist working for the Port Authority reportedly spent 45 minutes chasing down one of the two snowy owls at Kennedy Airport before shooting it down.
Boston's Logan Airport is handling the irruption of owls differently: by trapping and releasing them. New York Daily News reports that Norman Smith, of the Massachussetts Audobon Society, has been trapping owls for Logan Airport since 1981, and has already caught and released 20 this season.
"A snowy owl might take out a jet engine, but it’s not like a flock of geese that is going to take out more than one engine and possibly bring down a plane," Smith writes. "And the snowy owls also make other bird species disappear from the airfield."
The Port Authority caught and gassed more than 1,000 geese in the New York metropolitan area in 2009 after the "Miracle on the Hudson" incident, making the shoot-to-kill response fairly conventional for the agency.