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Scout: To Earn My Eagle, I'll Catch Hawks

'It does feel a little better to help one or two hawks that might have hit a plane.'

USDA biologist Megan Klosterman and Boy Scout Caleb Levine stand beside one of the hawk traps. Photo courtesy Jeff Burbank)
USDA biologist Megan Klosterman and Boy Scout Caleb Levine stand beside one of the hawk traps. Photo courtesy Jeff Burbank)
—By Bay City News Service

A Boy Scout from San Jose has built a pair of traps to ensnare migrating red-tailed hawks and other raptors that pose a safety hazard to aircraft at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Caleb Levine, a 16-year-old junior at Branham High School, fashioned the two traps to safely catch the hawks so the birds may be released into the wild far away from the airport, airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said.

Caleb, Barnes and Megan Klosterman, the airport's biologist who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were at a news conference Thursday at the airport's west side observation area to demonstrate how the traps work.

By the observation area, a group of six red-tailed hawks could be seen flying in a circular pattern at the start of one of the airport's runways and two others flew over a grassy infield between runways. Klosterman said the hawks seek prey such as squirrels and gophers in the airport's infield areas and aircraft collide with them sometimes as often as once a day during migratory seasons.

In addition to red-tailed hawks and other types of raptors, seagulls also are a menace to flying planes, Klosterman said. The gulls arrive in May of each year but are now gone for the season. "Raptors and gulls are the ones that get struck the most," she said. The airport uses loud pyrotechnics to scatter the flocks of seagulls instead of traps, according to Klosterman.

The hawks started their annual migration to the south in September and typically linger at the San Jose airport until November, but this is a swing year that occurs every three years, when hawk populations are higher than usual, Klosterman said.

"They naturally like to hover over the runways because of the thermals and the prey," Klosterman said. "It's a nice place for them to stop and feed." Caleb's trap uses a wooden bar holding up two wood and mesh wire sides.

Pigeons, which hawks prey on, are placed by Klosterman in a separate cage below as bait and when a hawk lands on the bar, it collapses and the sides close, trapping the bird. The hawk and the pigeons stay safely inside the trap and are not harmed, Klosterman said.

"It does feel a little better to help one or two hawks that might have hit a plane," Caleb said. "I think this could go big because it helps so many people, so many birds."

So far, one hawk has been caught in a trap set at one end of the airport, Klosterman said. "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," Caleb said. "But since we did, I did think I accomplished something."

Klosterman said she used raptor gloves to hold onto the captured male hawk's talons and placed an identification tag on its leg. She then drove it in a cage in her USDA truck to an area near Sacramento where it was released at a site with the property owner's permission.

Captured hawks must be released at least 100 miles away from the airport to ensure they do not return, she said.

Caleb, who built the traps as part of his community service requirement to be an Eagle Scout for his Troop 339, said his assistant scoutmaster knew an airport security employee who told him that Klosterman was looking for ways to capture the raptors.

It took him about 12 hours to design the trap, based on a Swedish Goshawk design, with a CAD software program and then about 100 man hours to build it over two weekends with his father, according to Caleb.

The traps cost about $225 each to build after retailers Lowe's and Home Depot gave him discounts on the materials, Caleb said.

The USDA is going to reimburse his expenses, Klosterman said. "He's done with his Eagle Scout project now and he has really helped us," she said.

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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