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Sea-Tac Airport's comprehensive wildlife management programs

Protecting both aircraft and animals

Like most airports, Sea-Tac has large tracts of open, improved land that provide an added buffer for both safety and noise mitigation. But these areas also provide an appealing home for animals. Wildlife and airplanes don't mix ... in fact, they're a downright dangerous combination.

 Avian radar


Sea-Tac Airport has a comprehensive wildlife management program that makes the airport less attractive for certain wildlife species, thus ensuring a safe environment for aviation and passengers.

Large flocking birds -- especially waterfowl and gulls -- are a major concern, although other birds and mammals can also be problematic.

Nationwide, aircraft-wildlife strikes are the second leading cause of aviation fatalities (FAA 2003 data) and account for more than 40 percent of the foreign object debris (FOD) damage sustained by aircraft. Estimated damages to aviation from wildlife strikes exceed $500 million annually for U.S. carriers.​

Sea-Tac Airport: First in the United States to Employ a Full-time Wildlife Biologist 
In the 1970s, we were the first U.S. airport to employ a full-time biologist and to develop an ecological approach to maintaining aviation safety and protecting wildlife. This position has evolved to promote wildlife conservation of certain non-hazardous species as well. 
Bird Radar Systems at Sea-Tac
In August 2007, Sea-Tac became the world's first airport to use avian radar in a long-term monitoring effort to detect potentially hazardous bird activity on and near an airport. In close collaboration with the University of Illinois, Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT), Sea-Tac now uses three Sicom-Accipiter radars continuously like a powerful pair of eyes that see much farther and higher than human observers, who are limited to viewing only during daylight hours. This technology has been of great benefit in monitoring wildlife over potentially hazardous attractants on and near the airport, a task that would have been extremely costly or impossible if done with only human observers.
In 2006, with the assistance of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant funding, CEAT began validation testing of avian radars to determine how best this technology could be used by airport operators to reduce the likelihood of an aircraft-bird collision. View a graphic that provides an overview area being sampled by two of the three avian radars at Sea-Tac. The avian radar validation testing program has expanded to several other airports around the country since 2009.  Read more about Deployment of Avian Radar at Civilian Airports.
Guiding Principles of Wildlife Management
  • Maximize Safety Now - Ongoing observation to monitor wildlife activity and disperse hazardous populations from the airfield.
  • Minimize Future Risk - Reducing or eliminating features that attract wildlife.

    Wildlife Management Plan (10 MB PDF)
Reducing Attractants 
The best way to serve the dual and sometimes competing goals of protecting both passengers and wildlife is to reduce or eliminate the features that draw wildlife to the airport area:
  • Approved Plant List and Planting Zones - Only plants of minimal interest to wildlife are used for landscaping. All plant varieties that produce fruits, nuts and berries are prohibited.
  • Taste Aversion Plantings - Sea-Tac has developed an exclusive grass seed mix that contains a fungus to make it less palatable to some birds and insects, which can attract hazardous wildlife. This mix is specially formulated to reduce erosion by establishing itself quickly after hydroseeding. Read more information.
  • Scrub-Shrub Plantings - In wetlands areas that need special protection, a dense canopy of bushes and other vegetation is planted to prevent large flocking birds from feeding and nesting at these sites.
  • Exclusion Devices - The port has a substantial investment in netting to keep waterfowl out of airport ponds and other water features. See a Bird-proof roof. Wildlife deterrent fencing, now buried underground, keeps animals from digging their way onto the airfield. See a photo and more information.
  • Harassment Devices
Honeybee Conservation
This program, introduced in June 2013, uses unused open space at Sea-Tac Airport to increase pollinator health.
Raptor Strike Avoidance Program
This program, developed in 2001, relocates raptors to safer environments.
Airport Wildlife Information West Nile Virus
Infections of West Nile Virus were recently found in Washington state. Each summer since 2003, the Port of Seattle has responded with a West Nile Virus Action Plan that includes outreach, airport-wide regulations, mosquito monitoring and mosquito control.
Health and safety presentations are being conducted to those individuals associated with the Port of Seattle who work outdoors at Sea-Tac Airport. For the most recent information on WNV and its prevention visit the Seattle Metro King County Department of Health Web site.  
Mosquito Control 
The primary objective of the Integrated Mosquito Management approach is to treat only those specific areas where mosquito larvae, pupae or adult numbers are high. The four treatments approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Health include:
Bacillus sphaericus, a species-specific bacteria that prevents mosquito larva from digesting their food.
Methoprene, a species-specific insect growth regulator that inhibits the development of larvae into adults.
Surface films disrupt the surface tension of the water. This inhibits the ability of mosquito larvae and pupae to attach to the surface of the water. It does not allow the mosquito to breathe or emerge from the pupa stage.
ULV Fogging reduces the number of adult biting mosquitoes. Ultra low volumes of insecticides are fogged from ground equipment to areas of high mosquito densities. This practice is reserved for those areas with adult mosquito numbers.

 Image Gallery



Have you seen a raptor like this? Email us. Learn more about our
Raptor Strike
Avoidance Program.

Image courtesy
Maynard Axelson

Contact us

Questions or comments?

Steve Osmek
Airport Wildlife Biologist/Mgr.
Sea-Tac Airport
Port of Seattle
P.O. Box 68727 Seattle, WA 98168  (206) 787-4453