"It's a great thing for Vermonters to experience these majestic birds coming from the arctic and being able to see them in our state," said Chris Cole with VTrans.
Cole says a migration of Snowy Owls is the largest the state has seen. These birds may be a beautiful and a rare site, but for the state airports they can be a huge safety hazard. "These owls hunt five to six feet off the ground. Airplanes when they are coming in can't see them. If they hit them in the propeller this large bird will cause a catastrophic accident with the airplane," Cole said.
He says the owls are attracted to habitats similar to the Arctic Circle and that the flat, well maintained grassy areas at the airports are where 10 snowy owls have been spotted across the state. VTrans has contracted with the USDA to help catch and remove the owls. Cole says they have spotted owls at airports in Berlin, Newport and Burlington. Now the trick is to safely relocate the birds. "What the USDA will do is they monitor the owls, they look for their hunting habits -- the areas that they are hunting for mice -- and then they will trap them and move them to another location," Cole said.
Officials have already been able to move two owls from the Burlington airport but other airports have resorted to lethal means. At JFK in New York, multiple owls were shot and killed after five jets were struck by the birds. "Other airports have done that in the Northeast during this migration period, but we would view that only as a last resort and we are not anticipating having to do that," Cole said.
JFK is now working to trap and relocate owls. Officials in Vermont hope they can find a way to keep both sets of flyers safe in the air.