The Málaga-Costa del Sol airport has a fauna control service that is based on falconry techniques.
Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport has had a fauna control service based on falconry techniques since 1991. Fauna control using birds of prey as deterrents to stop birds and other animals invading the movement area of the airport. The basic objective of this service is the air traffic safety.
Birds can cause serious damage to engines and aircraft windows; they present an extreme hazard that needs to be prevented. Although airports have used different methods to discourage birds, falconry has been found to be the most effective way to prevent this hazard. Broadcasting the cries of birds of prey or using fireworks are good temporary measures. The birds get used to living with these so-called threats and the danger of collision returns.
Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport uses a falconry service consisting of five falconers, two tracking dogs (which work with the falcons) and a team of falcons and hawks (Harris hawks). With full mastery of the complex techniques of falconry, they patrol the airport grounds combining their techniques: waiting on and out of hood or similar, thus creating an area that is completely prohibitive to all other birds.
The falcons fly in concentric circles high above the falconer and the dog. When the birds hide, the dog helps to flush them out so the falcon can hunt them. With the out of hood and similar techniques, the birds go from the falconer's fist to catch their prey. The main differences between the waiting on technique and out of hood and similar is that the latter are direct attack techniques, used to control rabbits and hares, herons, seagulls and the like, whilst the former is used mainly as a preventive measure.
The birds of prey currently used at the airport are employed to scare away bird fauna. Every day an average of six birds make deterrent flights of between ten to thirty minutes. The time and place are never repeated to ensure that the invading birds do not get used to a behavioural pattern that they will eventually get to know and, therefore, evade.
Most of the time, the flights are preventative. When the flocks are located, the falconer sets the falcon loose to drive the birds away from the airport grounds. The bird of prey performs natural selection, attacking the weakest birds which would be unlikely to survive, as they would in nature.
Before taking flight, the falconers weigh the falcon or Harris hawk. Weight control determines, amongst other aspects, the aggressiveness of the bird of prey. Lighter birds are more aggressive and thus keener hunters. The bird of prey is also fitted with a tiny radio transmitter on its tail so it can easily be located.
The falconers train the birds of prey at the airport and training can last up to three to four months. During this period, by rewarding certain behaviour and punishing others, the falcon or Harris hawk becomes a valuable part of air safety.
Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport also has a breeding programme for Harris hawks to ensure the maintenance and development of a service that helps daily to make air traffic safe.