Caleb Levin wanted to do something unique for his Eagle Scout project. The result is a new invention that has already been adopted at one airport and may soon make its way to others.
The 16-year-old wanted to do something that would help people and wildlife, so he landed on the idea of trying to prevent bird strikes at airports — the kind that kill hawks, geese, and other birds and often lead to emergency landings like the now-famous "Miracle on the Hudson" landing executed by pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger after the plane that he was flying struck a flock of Canada geese.
Bird strikes are a major safety concern for airports and airline passengers. Over the last 23 years, bird strikes have forced an average of one plane a day to make an emergency landing, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Mineta San Jose International Airport, the airport near where Levin lives, has a major problem with bird strikes because it is located within the migration zone for red-tailed hawks.
FAA's wildlife-strike database reports 46 wildlife strikes at San Jose International Airport from Jan. 1 through the end of July, while San Francisco International Airport reported 35 wildlife strikes and Oakland International Airport reported 44 strikes within the same time period. More than a quarter of those strikes were red-tailed hawks.
For Levin's Eagle Scout project, he designed a raptor trap that can be used at airports to prevent hawks from flying in and around the runway area. He talked with Megan Klosterman, a USDA biologist at San Jose International, about his idea to capture raptors and how it might work.
Levin spent half a day designing a trap — based on the Swedish Goshwak design — with a CAD software program and then he and his dad spent about 100 hours building it. The wood-and-mesh trap (pictured above) works by luring in raptors using pigeons that are placed in a separate cage below. When the hawk flies in to grab its dinner, the trap closes. The birds are then tagged and released back in to the wild — away from the airport.
"They naturally like to hover over the runways because of the thermals and the prey," Klosterman said at a press conference for Levin's new invention. "It's a nice place for them to stop and feed."
Two of Levine's traps have been set up at the San Jose airport, where one hawk has already been trapped.
"When Megan emailed me that she first caught the bird, I was very excited because looking at this, you wouldn't think it would catch anything," Levine told KTVU. "But since we did, I did think I accomplished something."
Levin hopes his design can be used at other airports around the country to protect raptors, and improve safety for airline passengers.