An airport in Traverse City, Michigan, has found the perfect way to deter unwanted and dangerous wildlife from the runways. Meet Piper, a 7-year-old Border Collie that patrols the runways and scares birds away from the flight paths of outbound and inbound airplanes.
Piper the Border Collie dons a ski mask, boots, and earmuffs for protection and works 40 hours a week keeping the airport bird free. Birds on flight paths have become a problem and can cause serious damage if they hit a windscreen or are sucked up into an airplane engine. The birds can cause damage to the plane and themselves get killed. The Travers City airport (Cherry Capital Airport) struck 37 bird and one skunk from 2010 to 2015, making the Border Collie Piper and his patrolling an essential part of the team.
One of the most dangerous cases the airport experienced happened in May 2014, when a bird struck an incoming plane and crashed into the cockpit. Luckily, the pilot was just 10 miles from the airport and flying at 3,500 feet, so he managed to land the plane. Serious damage was done to the plane according to the airport’s operations director but no one was hurt.
Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations require all airports across the area to have precautions to fend away the hazardous wildlife. Most airports have opted for pyrotechnics, traps, and sirens, making Piper the patrolling Border Collie very unique. He is the only K-9 staff member at a Michigan airport and one of only a few across the United States. Cherry Capital Airport writes on its website that “dogs are one of the most effective methods of wildlife mitigation at airports.”
Piper loves to run, is intelligent, and enjoys working. His main mission is not only to scare away any bird that lands on the flight path or the surrounding fields, but also to check for holes under the fences boarding the airport to see if any wildlife, including rats and small mammals, can get in.
“Piper is the definition of a working dog: he loves what he does and is happiest when working. He’s extremely intelligent and loves putting his mind to work,” said Brian Edwards, Airport Operations Supervisor.
Piper’s happiness and safety comes first. He is outside as much as possible. “As an Airport Operations Supervisor, my duties are not strictly wildlife management, so the amount of time outside depends mostly on my workload. Other than that, we try to be outside doing what he loves. He gets plenty of breaks and water and is never left alone outside.”
The Border Collie had to go through intensive training to make sure he was up for the challenge and would be happy and safe working on the flight paths. Edwards said most of Piper’s training focused on obedience and off lead control with extra training around the airport to ensure Piper was used to aircraft noises. He has also been made special “muttmuffs” to protect his sensitive ears and booties for when the tarmac is hot. Border Collies are natural herders, so no special training was needed to chase off the wildlife.
Piper and I spend a lot of time outside anyway, but even more so during this time while I was training for racing and Tough Mudder events. So instead of just running, we started to mix in training. Most of the training revolved around off leash control, making sure he would listen to me no matter what. Chasing birds comes pretty natural to this guy, so we didn’t have to work on that as much as the obedience.
The 7-year-old Border Collie has been with the airport since August 2014. Since joining, he has become an important part of the team and become a bit of an online celebrity. Piper the Border Collie has an Instagram account, Facebook page, and is the star of the airport’s website. Many photos have been posted, liked, and loved of the handsome Border Collie and his day-to-day work.
As well as being popular with the team and happy, the Boarder Collie is said to be more effective than the sirens usually used at airports to deter wildlife. According to the airport, the birds, including loons, snowy owls, ducks, and geese, would quickly return to airfields after the sirens but now fly off as soon as they see the red SUV that Piper rides to work in coming along the track.
According to Edwards, Piper has chased off over 2,450 birds from the flight paths within a year of starting. But sadly, in late 2015, Piper the airport Border Collie suffered a paw fracture while on the job. He was chasing a snowy owl off the runway when the injury occurred. He was quickly rushed to the vet and is currently in a cast but is still going to work and getting lots of love and attention in the office as well as on Instagram with his brightly covered casts.
[Photo by Cherry Capital Airport K-9 Team/Facebook]