Face of Defense: Falcons Sweep Airspace, Flightline Clean

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Ger­many — F-16 Fight­ing Fal­cons and oth­er air­craft are a com­mon sight here, but if peo­ple stop at the right time and place, they might see fal­cons on the prowl.

Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany
Ronald Leu holds Gina, a 5-year-old fal­con, July 29, 2010, at Spang­dahlem Air Base, Ger­many. Gina is trained to hunt wildlife near the base’s flight­line to help in pre­vent­ing air­craft dam­age.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Staff Sgt. Logan Tut­tle
Click to enlarge

These birds and the base fal­con­er serve an impor­tant role in con­trol­ling pests that pose a bird-strike threat to air­borne jets or can dam­age air­craft on the ground. Ronald Leu of the 52nd Civ­il Engi­neer Squadron has been the base fal­con­er here for 10 years. He’s the ful­crum between base offi­cials and the mis­sion-crit­i­cal preda­tors that keep nui­sance pop­u­la­tions to tol­er­a­ble lev­els. “These birds prey on rab­bits, but more impor­tant­ly, crows,” Leu said. “It’s impor­tant to keep air­space clear so the air­craft can fly as nor­mal.” Leu’s job as base fal­con­er is part-time; his pri­ma­ry job is mak­ing pre­ci­sion machine parts. The fal­con­er releas­es trained birds of prey to pur­sue crows, rab­bits and oth­er local wildlife that can pose prob­lems for wing oper­a­tions. Once the fal­con­er sees that a bird has made a suc­cess­ful catch, he quick­ly meets with it to lim­it how much it eats. As long as the bird is still hun­gry, Leu explained, it will con­tin­ue hunt­ing in the area. The birds do an excel­lent job at reduc­ing the num­bers of ani­mals that pose threats to air­craft, Leu said. “The birds keep the air­space clear of crows, and this low­ers the num­ber of bird strikes,” he said. One bird, Rosie, is espe­cial­ly adept at catch­ing fer­al cats. “I wouldn’t want to lose Rosie,” Leu said. “She is a very expe­ri­enced cat hunter. Crows and oth­er birds are much eas­i­er to hunt than cats, since [cats] have claws in the front and back, and teeth too.” Although he is only seen on base with the birds two to four times each week, Leu said, a lot of time and effort must be spent train­ing the birds and work­ing with them. “I train them for about a month before we begin, but some­times it’s less,” he said. “If you buy birds of prey that are already trained, you also buy some oth­er people’s prob­lems.” Train­ing and inter­act­ing with birds has been a pas­sion for Leu for years. His inter­est began at the age of 4, he said, when he would seek books and every­thing else he could find about birds. He owned his first bird when he was 9, and years lat­er owned many spar­rows.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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