WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) – If you’ve spent some time out near Central Freeway this week then you’ve probably heard some loud pops going off in the area, and if you have, then don’t be alarmed
“It’s to protect aviation [and] human life,” Wildlife Biologist for the USDA Ted Pepps said.
That loud boom you may hear, followed by swarms of birds, are all a part of Sheppard Air Force Base [and] the USDA’s joint exercise to relocate or reroute the local blackbird population.
“So the biggest problem we’re seeing right now with the blackbirds is they’ll fly across the airfields towards the East in the morning to come to where they eat, as they are flying across back [and] forth right we have airplanes coming up crossing through kind of exactly where they are flying so they pose a pretty significant threat,” said BASH Program Manager of Wing Safety at Sheppard, Daniel Funk.
Funk said the birds, which are actually called Great-Tailed Grackles, can be a deadly threat to pilots, and during these winter months, they need the birds to find a new roosting area. So what do they do? Well, that’s where USDA Wildlife Biologist Ted Pepps comes in.
“The two primary tools we use are propane cannons and pyrotechnics, both of those are non-lethal means, [and] they both sound almost identical to gunfire so we’re trying to let everybody know in the public that we are using these tools so they don’t mistake us for an active shooter,” Pepps said.
So this week during the last two hours of daylight, if you hear the sound, remember the birds aren’t getting harmed, but instead scared, to a new location so that Sheppard can continue its air training safely.
“If we don’t do this operation we’d either have to change shift in flying schedules or not fly at the same times the birds are which impacts the student training that we do out here [and] we don’t get enough pilots made on time,” Funk said.
This whole thing is a process, Pepps said for now they’ll just be closely watching the sky.
“So it all depends on where they go next and how that changes their flight path away from the Sheppard Air Force Base Pilot ‘s flight path,” Pepps said.
For more information on the exercise, you can click here.