Yesterday, animal lovers everywhere were outraged to hear that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had added the majestic snowy owl to its airport kill list. The Port Authority gave the order after a nesting owl was sucked into the engine of a plane on the tarmac, an airport source told NBC. Birds nesting in or flying through airports can be a danger to travelers, as you might remember from the geese that brought down (Sully) Sullenberger’s flight in the Hudson River in 2009. However, the Port Authority’s decision to unleash animal control officers with orders to shoot snowy owls on sight struck some as cruel and unusual.
Many people know the snowy owl as the animal chosen to play Hedwig, the beloved pet of boy wizard Harry Potter. These magnificent creatures are mostly white with narrow, sparse brown bars and spots, and are among the largest owl species living in North America. “Unlike most other owl species, snowy owls hunt mainly in the daytime,” explains Defenders of Wildlife. “Snowy owls are highly nomadic and their movements are tied to the abundance of their primary prey species, lemmings. They are known to aggressively defend their nests and will attack those that disturb their nests.”
According to wildlife experts, snowy owls (as well as other migratory birds) are drawn to the tundra-like landscapes of airports, and choose to land because they look like good open spaces in which they’ll be able to find food. Although snowy owls have been nesting at JFK airport for some time, this is the first incident in which an owl has accidentally damaged a plane.
Shortly after giving the order to shoot snowy owls on sight, the Port Authority was the target of an online petition, with nearly 3,000 signatures. The petition, addressed to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Senate, called the practice of shooting the animals “barbaric and unnecessary.”
Since then, the New York Times reports that the Port Authority is starting a program to trap and relocate snowy owls, instead of killing them.