The Falcon Hunter
By Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong, Public Affairs
/ Published July 27, 2016
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
Sporting a navy blue polo and ball cap, both ornamented with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wildlife services logos, he scans the horizon.
Dale Waites, USDA wildlife biologist, grabs his binoculars to get a better look across the airfield at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. As soon as he spots what he’s been looking for, he sets down the binoculars and puts the truck in drive.
“There’s one,” says Waites, as the truck begins to bounce across the grass. “Can you see it on top of the fence?”
On this particular day, he is narrowing his animal pursuit to the most common falcon in North America, the American kestrel.
As soon as Waites spots a kestrel through his binoculars, he sets up a trap within the bird’s view. He then continues his search, checking the trap within the hour.
Waites, who is a part of the Bird Airstrike Hazard program (BASH), works as a one-man team on a day-to-day basis. According to Waites, the birds nest on the airfield and are a hazard to the B-52H Stratofortress. They can cause damage to the engines of incoming and outgoing aircraft.
The migrant American kestrels come here for the summer to breed and eat before moving south. The birds travel in pairs or small family groups of three or four if there are hatchlings. They must be relocated away from the airfield before or after nesting.
“If you catch them with hatchlings, they will come back no matter how far you relocate them,” says Waites.
In order to relocate the birds, Waites must first catch them, which is no easy task. His preferred method is a live trap, which consists of a cage covered in meticulously woven slipknots made of fishing line. A small rodent such as a field mouse is put into the trap, protected from the predator. The falcon will spot its prey and swoop down, getting its talons caught in the slipknot.
After making his catch, Waites will safely release the birds, usually 50-60 miles away. Up to ten American kestrels are relocated from Minot AFB’s airfield each year.
“That was pretty awesome,” exclaimed Waites, after making a catch within 30 minutes of setting a trap. “There are very few jobs where you get to handle raptors for work, minus being a zoo keeper.”