PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh International Airport has ways of dealing with the weather. But threats to aircraft can also come from other natural causes. Like birds, for example.

Wildlife administrator Ben Shertzer takes us to the habitat of one such bird, where we’re joined by Bob Mulvihill, ornithologist for the National Aviary, and wildlife biologist Bobby Hromack. We approach low lying underbrush where Short-eared Owls hide and hunt.

“It’s flat, basically like a farmland,” Shertzer says.

“There’s low traffic,” Hronack adds. “This is an old taxiway that was shut down. So the fields are here, the big open fields they prefer to hunt in.”

Even in the low visibility of a heavy snowfall, they’re beautiful to look at. But owls and aircraft just don’t mix.

“In removing them from the airport, we can relocate them to another area for passenger safety and for the safety of the animal itself,” Shertzer says.

“Raptors in general like to perch on high places when hunting,” Hronack adds. “And there’s a small trap on top of the pole with the perch on it. When they’re trapped they’re lowered safely, to the ground.”

Bob Mulvihill puts a small metal band on one of its legs, to monitor its progress.

“These birds are a protected species,” he explains. “They’re on the state list of species of special concern. They’re really rare in Pennsylvania.”

But the airport is no place for a Short-eared Owl. Three have been removed so far.

“The owls were taken about 25 miles from here,” Bobby Kronack says. “We’ve had no return birds so far, so we’re hoping it continues for their safety, and for the safety of passengers here.”

Based on our observations, three birds gone, and five to go.

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