Date of this Version
Responding to a U.S. Federal court order to improve discharged wastewater quality, Augusta, Georgia initiated development of artificial wetlands in 1997 to treat effluents. Because of the proximity to Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration expressed concern for potential increased hazard to aircraft posed by birds attracted to these wetlands. We commenced weekly low-level aerial surveys of habitats in the area beginning January, 1998. Over a one-year period, 49 surveys identified approximately 42,000 birds representing 52 species, including protected Wood Storks and Bald Eagles, using wetlands within 8 km of the airport. More birds were observed during the mid-winter and fall/spring migratory seasons (1,048 birds/survey; October - April) than during the breeding/post-breeding seasons (394 birds/survey; May - September). In winter, waterfowl dominated the avian assemblage (65% of all birds). During summer, wading birds were most abundant (56% of all birds). Habitat changes within the artificial wetlands produced fish kills and exposed mudflats, resulting in increased use by wading birds and shorebirds. No aquatic birds were implicated in 1998 bird strikes, and most birds involved could safely be placed within songbird categories. Airport incident reports further implicated songbirds. These findings suggested that efforts to decrease numbers of songbirds on the airport property must be included in the development of a wildlife hazard management plan. Seasonal differences in site use among species groups should also be considered in any such plan. Other wetlands within 8 km of the airport supported as many or more birds than the artificial wetlands. With proper management of the artificial wetlands, it should be possible to successfully displace waterfowl and wading birds to other wetlands further from the airport.