Airboats help repel migrating blackbirds near Augusta Regional Airport

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If the pyrotechnic screamers, bangers and whistlers don’t do the job, just call out the airboats.

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Steve Humphreys works with a team from Stan's Airboat, of Lake Charles, La., to flatten the swamp vegetation near the Augusta Regional Airport to make the area unsuitable for roosting blackbirds.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Steve Humphreys works with a team from Stan's Airboat, of Lake Charles, La., to flatten the swamp vegetation near the Augusta Regional Airport to make the area unsuitable for roosting blackbirds.

That’s what the Augusta Utilities Department does each fall as part of a program to harass millions of migrating blackbirds that seem to find the city’s constructed wetlands the perfect place to call home.

“It’s very much a success story,” said Bobby Kennamer, a Savannah River Ecology Lab scientist who monitors bird movement near Augusta Regional Airport, where bird strikes are a safety concern.

The artificial wetlands, now part of Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, were designed to help purify effluent from the nearby Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The network of shallow ponds was planted with giant cutgrass, cattails and other vegetation that helps improve water quality, but also created habitat irresistible to the prolific redwing blackbird.

“We started seeing large numbers of blackbirds coming into the area, and it took a few years to find the best way to address it,” said Allan Saxon, the assistant utilities director.

Although aviation officials wouldn’t be concerned about a few blackbirds, the flocks roosting nearby grew rapidly, peaking in 2005 at nearly 15 million birds in a single night.

“What we found is that they were roosting here, then feeding in a 50-mile radius, as far south as Sandersville, and then coming back in the evenings,” Saxon said. “They prefer dense vegetation 15 to 18 inches above standing water, so it’s the perfect environment.”

The airboats, which arrived in Augusta this week, are used to flatten and crush the standing vegetation, making the area unsuitable for roosting blackbirds. Crushing the plants in the fall keeps the area nearly bird-free through winter, and the plants regrow in spring.

“We also do a little extra harassment in the form of propane cannons and hand-held pyrotechnics,” Saxon said. “We use three different kinds – screamers, bangers and whistlers – and shoot them out of a little pistol a couple evenings a week.”

The use of airboats to mash vegetation was first tried in 2005 and adopted as an annual deterrent in 2008 after trials documented its effectiveness. This year’s crew, based in Louisiana, is using five boats to flatten hundreds of acres of vegetation during its two-week stay.

The program has vastly reduced the blackbirds lured to the area, Kennamer said.

“The numbers have been driven down to a fraction of what we’ve seen in the past.”

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Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/03/11 - 07:57 pm
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First off, it seems someone

First off, it seems someone has erred when such a manmade swamp is constructed next to an airport. But it is a neat idea for a way to get rid of weeds on the river. I feel like buying one for the weeds out here in Columbia County on the river. We have people using them at times, but not too often. They look cool as all get out...and effective.

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 11/03/11 - 09:12 pm
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good point, riverman - I

good point, riverman - I probably should have added more background on the issue. Both the airport and the sewage plant have been here many decades, so when EPA and EPD ordered the city to clean up its sewage program, using city-owned land next to the plant was probably their only choice. (I'd love to have one of these boats too - each one is powered by a big-block 454 chevy. If they added a couple wings, you could literally fly it out of here).

Augusta resident
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Augusta resident 11/04/11 - 04:14 am
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How can you count 15 million

How can you count 15 million birds in a single night? Sounds like alot of contaminating poop to me.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/04/11 - 06:07 am
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Dang, 454 engine. I didn't

Dang, 454 engine. I didn't know they used something like that. Unreal.

GodisSoGood
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GodisSoGood 11/04/11 - 08:47 am
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Better hope PETA doesn't get

Better hope PETA doesn't get wind of this.....poor blackbirds are being run of their home....

What4
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What4 11/04/11 - 10:03 am
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Amazing..yet we are not

Amazing..yet we are not allowed to manage the lake levels due to some fish somewhere in Florida. Guess fish outrank birds.

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
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Crime Reports and Rewards TV 11/04/11 - 01:51 pm
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At least this works better

At least this works better than the airboats that sprayed a little weed killer in the river and suckered our commissioners AGAIN with a bogus $50,000 bill only for the tiny bit of river weeds close to the shore they did knock back a few inches to come right back. The only thing we found to work on river weeds is a series of golf cart wheels rolling against each other lowered into the water. The wheels rip the river weeds out and deposit them neatly on the river bottom to feed fish and the sand bars wash away because the roots aren’t holding their soil there any longer. This whole thing would have cost $10,000. ONE TIME, but because a local tax payer suggested it our elected have to spend $50,000. A YEAR to waste more money cause that’s about all they seem to know how to do. They gave away the Tee Center didn’t they? They’re still gifting the elite free this, and free that, to the tune of about 1 million dollars we could have paid our cops with, that says it all.

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