Captain’s Diary: Birds around airports take a lot from us | Outside


I’ve watched birds around airports along the coast as well as inland airports, thinking about how we impact them and watching how their natural behavior changes due to the big steel birds in their airspace . We challenge and endanger birds.

My well-worn hat is removed out of respect and admiration for organic birds. Decibel levels reach deafening levels as large passenger jets speed up, the air behind a large jet is turbulent, hot and smoky, but the birds do an admirably effort to take it all in stride.

Have you ever noticed how few birds have aerial collisions? They are masters in the art of avoiding collisions in the air. There seems to be a kind of air culture among the birds and they maneuver with consideration for avoidance of each other. It’s impressive to watch.

Our big steel birds are very inconsiderate and do not join the organic bird aerial culture, so we lose birds that get sucked into the motors or chopped up by props. Legendary Captain Sully Sullenberger might have something to say about bird encounters. River landings should be avoided, but this hero captain pulled off a great landing and kept his passengers alive.

Speaking of water, Santa Barbara Commercial Airport (SBA) is built on a landfill with wetlands around much of it. That’s because during World War II, the Army Corps of Engineers filled in and destroyed much of a pristine waterway with fantastic wetlands, which housed and nurtured an estimated one million creatures.

I am of the opinion that we should relocate the SBA and restore the waterway and wetlands for the benefit of wildlife, and to provide again the recreational opportunities (camping, fishing, canoeing, etc.) of the area once provided with minimal impact on wildlife, compared to the asphalt and cement airport that now covers most of the historic wetlands and disrupts the natural order.

Relocating an airport is a major undertaking, but I’ve heard grants are available to restore historic waterways and wetlands. Stakeholders and the general public must be given the opportunity to express their opinions.

My own opinion is that I care more about bugs than airports and our own airport moves and endangers too many bugs for my liking. I respect that you may feel differently.

I fished just off LAX, wearing a mask to reduce the jet exhaust particles I breathe in. I marvel at how seagulls, pelicans and other shore and sea birds try to stay away from the loud, smelly big steel birds.

Near domestic airports, I have observed uncomfortably close encounters between aircraft and soaring birds of prey or flocks of migrating birds. Flocks of smaller birds can be decimated by large airborne engines. I cringe watching a ground squirrel trying to frantically navigate an airstrip with a thundering 747.

It’s an asphalt jungle out there! I can’t stop thinking about what we can do to help the critters.

– Captain David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is President of SOFTIN Inc., a non-profit organization providing boating opportunities to those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.


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