Maverick makes geese buzz at Bentonville Airport
BENTONVILLE – It took a “Maverick” to keep the geese away from the municipal airport.
The male border collie started harassing pesky intruders in April 2020. He now rules the roost.
“They’re always trying to come back,” manager Robin Fields said of the geese. “I see geese flying over the airport, but they avoid it. The geese are still there, but they don’t spend much time at the airport.”
The city bought Maverick from Flyaway Geese, a North Carolina company that trains border collies to disperse geese and other birds.
The dogs are used at airports, city parks, golf courses and military bases, said company owner Rebecca Gibson. Flyaway Geese has sold over 700 dogs in the past 24 years, she said. The Flyaway Geese website says the company can help manage geese, pigeons, waders, starlings, seagulls, ducks, cormorants and coots.
The name “Maverick” was selected from more than 300 applications the city received via Facebook and email in March, said Debbie Griffin, city executive director. More than 60 respondents submitted the name Maverick, one of 103 suggested names, she said.
Maverick is 2 years and 4 months old, Fields said.
The airport had a goose problem for several years before Maverick arrived. Birds were a threat to aircraft safety. Geese became a concern when they wandered near the runway or flew near planes taking off or landing, said Dennis Birge, the city’s transportation engineer.
The Federal Aviation Administration only lists two bird strikes at Bentonville Airport – one in 2019 and one in 2013. The 2019 incident involved an “unknown bird” and the 2013 one was listed as “medium bird” unknown”.
About 183,296 wildlife strikes against civilian aircraft were reported in the United States and for U.S.-registered aircraft in foreign countries from 1990 to 2016, according to a report from the Department of the Department’s Airport Wildlife Hazards program. United States Agriculture released June 2018.
The biggest concerns at Bentonville Airport include potential impacts to an aircraft’s nose, propeller, or engine, primarily upon landing. Other areas a bird could strike include the tail and flaps, said Chip Gibbons of Summit Aviation, the airport’s fixed operator.
The most frequently reported aircraft components to have been struck by birds from 1990 to 2020 were the nose / radome, windshield, wing / rotor, engine and fuselage. Aircraft engines were the component most often reported to be damaged by bird strikes – 26% of all components damaged, according to the FAA.
Richard Ham, chairman of the Bentonville Airport Advisory Board, said there were times in the past when there were 30 to 40 geese in the water or on land at the airport. Those numbers have fallen to three or four now, he said.
“It’s not a hospitable place for them. The dog does a great job. Every person we take out there reduces the risk of a strike,” Ham said.
What remains of Maverick’s target-rich environment is now made up of starlings, crows, and pigeons. The starlings, sometimes in groups of 300, congregate on the short grass near the airport runway, Fields said.
Maverick will quickly wade through the small birds and send them flying, but Fields said the dog prefers to chase geese. Geese see the dog as a natural predator, Ham said.
Resident geese are still trying to return to the airport. These geese were born in the area and know it as their home, Fields said.
A few geese and other birds usually need to be kept away from the airport after a few days’ departure from Maverick. Fields and Maverick work Monday through Friday.
BORN TO RUN (EXCLUDING GEES)
Maverick is the offspring of Greg, the dog who worked with Fields at Bentonville Airport before Maverick arrived. Working with Greg helped prepare him for dealing with the young dog, he said.
“Greg was a well experienced dog,” said Fields. “Anyone could have picked him up and done the job. He’s what I call a push dog. Greg was more seasoned, and Maverick just wants to go, go.”
Gibson said she wasn’t surprised at Maverick’s success. It’s in her DNA, she says.
“This lineage that he comes from, they don’t know about anything other than goose control,” she said. “They’re in the womb chasing geese.”
Fields and Maverick also patrol city parks a few times a week to escape geese. Geese were a problem at Memorial Park, landing on the ball fields and using a water pond on the east side of the park. The geese also liked to congregate in the retention ponds near the Bentonville community center and the citizens’ park. Like the airport, these areas are now virtually goose-free areas.
“My basic observation is that it works,” said David Wright, director of parks and recreation, of using a goose hunter dog. “The geese know the dog exists. It’s a maintenance issue now.”
The goal is to chase the geese, not to kill them. Using a border collie is the human way to deal with geese, Gibson said.
City officials have used various methods to deter geese with varying degrees of success, including decoying and harassing them with noise, officials said. Falconry was examined, but its cost was prohibitive. Officials discussed applying for a state permit to kill geese, but dropped the idea.
From November to February, there is a slight increase in the number of geese and other birds at the airport, said Will Gunselman, director of the Summit at Thaden Field, whose airport is also named.
“THE BEST BUSINESS EVERYDAY”
The border collie cost around $ 7,000. The 2020 city budget indicated a salary of $ 45,000 for the dog handler. The position was registered with the Police Department as an administrative technician (goose dog handler / part-time bailiff).
Ham called the expense “the best deal ever.” He noted that damage to an aircraft from a bird strike could cost thousands of dollars and even loss of life.
“If you avoid an incident it would pay off many times over,” he said.
Ham said the city should be able to use the dog for seven to nine years before Maverick’s skills begin to wane.
Fields works as a bailiff at Bentonville District Court Tuesday morning and Wednesday all day. He goes to the airport with Maverick before starting his shifts these days to make sure everything is calm.
“Maverick and his handler Robin have been great,” Gunselman said. “They are extremely proactive, and I have personally seen a big difference in the fewer birds in the field. Pilots in the field have also mentioned a sharp decrease in bird activity.”
Robin Fields walks Thursday, October 21, 2021, as he runs Maverick at Bentonville Municipal Airport. Fields has a long history of law enforcement and was hired about a year ago to deploy Maverick to the airport to control the goose population. Go to nwaonline.com/211024Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / Andy Shupe)
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For more information on Bentonville Municipal Airport, visit https://www.bentonvillear.com/385/Airport