Raptor Relocation Network – Different kinds of ‘Birdies’ on course, now more than ever!

While a ‘birdie’ in a typical golf round usually implies 1 stroke below par on a hole, Audubon International’s Raptor Relocation Network (RRN) has a different idea for ‘birdies’ on their environmentally certified member golf courses.

Audubon International, the world leader of environmental certification for golf courses, and United Airlines, through their Eco-skies program, have teamed up to create a Raptor Relocation Network on both coasts of the USA. Through this program, raptors on airfields that can pose flight hazards are humanely captured and relocated – reducing the risk of airstrikes for both airplanes and wildlife.

What species are being relocated? In the NYC area, the primary species we relocate include American Kestrels and Red-tailed hawks. SFO focuses primarily on Barn Owls and Red-tailed hawks.

The initiative started on the east coast in 2017, focusing on the New York metropolitan airports and expanded in 2019 to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Since then the number of raptors relocated has almost doubled!

What do golf courses offer raptors?

Long, clear views, and a variety of habitats!

In addition to long stretching fairways, Audubon International’s certified golf courses manage their native areas to include high vantage perches, nesting opportunities, and often include educational signage to limit human interaction in certain areas.

Why relocate these birds?

The low availability of wild open habitat in many regions appears to be funneling these grassland-dependent birds onto airfields. The large amount of closed-canopy forest and development of land that would otherwise be prairie, farms, and pastures has resulted in declining numbers of American Kestrels and other wildlife that depend on the hunting opportunities that grasslands offer.

Due to the loss of these grasslands, raptors often find themselves on airfields where they pose potential threat and safety hazards to inbound and outbound flights. Relocating these birds is one of many preventative methods in place to increase aircraft safety.

How are the birds relocated?

Thanks to support from United Airlines, our team of partners at the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) humanely trap the raptors, then transport and release them at our certified golf courses that have also been approved as Official Release Sites.

Before these golf courses can become Official Release Sites for the Raptor Relocation Network, each course is individually assessed for compliance with Audubon International’s environmental management requirements such as wildlife habitat management and chemical use reduction and safety. In addition, they’re also individually assessed for a number of other qualifiers including adequate distance from airports and proximity to avian flyways.

2020 Recap

2020 was a banner year for the Raptor Relocation Network. Live trapping activities for targeted raptors were successful at SFO for the first time, and a total of 118 raptors were relocated through the RRN last year – practically doubling the number of relocations seen since 2017! After this record year, the total number of relocations made through the program is now 246.

You can check out the birds released, and even track by their band observations through our interactive map here: https://auduboninternationalraptorprogram.org/map.php . These points are uploaded by biologists, Audubon International staff, and citizen scientists.

*Watch This Hawk Release Video*: https://fb.watch/2RB2rDTC5W/

Going forward…

Since the program launched, our team has relocated 246 birds of prey from Greater New York City (NYC) airports and San Francisco International. 

As the program continues to move forward, handling and banding permits are expected to be expanded to encompass other common species like Great Horned Owls in California. NYC area airports will continue trapping kestrels, hawks, and other permitted raptors.

In both New York and California, Official Release Sites work closely with airport wildlife biologists to enable relocations and provide broad and wide-reaching citizen science data during and after a bird is relocated. If you’re interested in learning more, check out Audubon International’s Raptor Relocation Network website: https://auduboninternational.org/raptor-relocation-network/.

Audubon International, an environmentally focused non-profit organization offers members numerous certifications and conservation initiatives to protect the areas where we live, work, and play. Their programs are designed to increase environmental awareness, encourage sustainable environmental efforts, and educate both their members and their communities.

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