airboats combat redwing blackbirds


Autumn weather means migrating redwing blackbirds will soon flock to Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, where several airboats are hard at work to repel them.

Phinizy Swamp

Phinizy Swamp

“They’ll be working out here for about two weeks,” research scientist Jason Moak said. “Mainly what they do is use the boats to flatten out all the grass so the birds won’t have such a nice place to roost.”

The 1,100-acre park, used for education and environmental research, was created around a series of “constructed wetlands” that help purify effluent from the nearby Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Each of the 10 shallow ponds covers about 36 acres – all planted with giant cutgrass, cattails and other vegetation that helps improve water quality.

Such habitat, however, is irresistible to the prolific redwing, whose numbers peaked in 2005, when 15 million birds were counted in a single night. Such numbers created aviation safety concerns at nearby Augusta Regional Airport.

The solution, which appears to be working, is to use the airboats to knock down the standing vegetation that the birds prefer, along with other tactics such as whistles and noisemakers, according to Augusta Utilities Department officials.

The use of airboats to mash vegetation was first tried in 2005 and adopted as an annual deterrent in 2008 after trials documented its effectiveness.

This year’s crew, based in Louisiana, is using two boats to flatten about 360 acres of vegetation during its two-week stay. Crushing the plants in the fall keeps the area nearly bird-free through winter, and the plants regrow in spring.

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