A snowy owl spotted in Jamaica Bay in 2011 (Photo submitted by Stuart Fries, but taken by anonymous friend)

UPDATE (11:00 a.m.): Apparently we were a little slow to this story, and a reader in the comments points out that the owls will now be trapped instead of killed in response to criticism from advocates. Here’s the story in the New York Times.

Original story:

Environmentalists and animal activists are up in arms about the addition of snowy owls to the Port Authority’s “kill list,” a hit list of birds targeted by agency killers for allegedly interfering with air traffic.

The Daily News reports:

The Port Authority’s “wildlife specialists” started exterminating the owls Saturday, killing three at JFK Airport with a shotgun, a Port Authority source said.

The snowy owl — widely familiar to children as Hedwig, the beloved pet of boy wizard Harry Potter — was added to the kill list after one of them, nesting on top of a taxiway sign on an airport runway and got sucked into an airplane turbine.

“These are beautiful birds that I or anyone else I know who has worked at JFK have never heard pose a problem,” the source said. “Even a wildlife specialist didn’t understand why they were being killed because they are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls.”

The Port Authority has fewer than five of the specialists, who are armed with shotguns filled with birdshot, the source said.

Snowy owls are a coveted sight for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts who visit Jamaica Bay, a wildlife refuge in which the airport sits. Some incredible, and rare, photos of one fishing off the rocks near the Verrazano Bridge, just outside of Jamaica Bay, went viral in 2011 after they were published on Sheepshead Bites.

The hooters are the latest entry on the kill list, which includes Canada geese, mute swans, red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, crows, pigeons and double-crested cormorants.

The annual rounding up and slaughter of geese on protected lands near the airport regularly draws the scorn of animal activists. Many have pointed to alternative, non-lethal methods of ensuring safety for airline passengers, including sonic equipment that scares birds off and advanced radar technology to help avoid collisions.

But the Port Authority and National Parks Service have so far stayed quiet on the proposals, instead appearing somewhat confounded that residents would take issue with the callous slaughter of native species in a wildlife refuge. And authorities have also not yet commented on the wisdom of building an airport in the middle of the Atlantic flyway, a primary migratory route for thousands, if not millions, of North American birds.

What a bunch of bird brains.

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