Falconer sweeps skies clean

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Clay Murray
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Tailspotters may be surprised by the irregular birds of prey they see in Spangdahlem's skies, but they certainly won't be disappointed.

Spectators may come to base with an eye out for the F-16 Fighting Falcons or other aircraft. If they stop at the right time and place, however, actual falcons can be seen prowling the skies.

To the surprise of some, these birds and the base falconer serve an important role in pest and foreign object damage control.

Ronald Leu, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron base falconer, is the fulcrum between the base and these mission critical predators that keep nuisance populations to tolerable levels.

"These birds prey on rabbits, but more importantly crows," he said. "It's important to keep air space clear so the aircraft can fly as normal."

Mr. Leu's job as base falconer is part-time; his other hands-on job is casting and making precision machine parts.

There are only a few steps to the falconer's job of limiting local bird populations. Trained birds of prey are released in air space where they pursue crows, rabbits and other local wildlife. Once the falconer sees that a bird has made a successful catch, he quickly meets with it to limit how much is eaten. As long as the bird is still hungry, it will continue hunting in the area.

These types of birds do an excellent job at reducing the numbers of animals that pose threats to aircraft, Mr. Leu said. "The birds keep the air space clear of crows, and this lowers the number of bird strikes. I wouldn't want to lose Rosie. She is even a very experienced cat hunter. Crows and other birds are much easier to hunt than cats, since (cats) have claws in the front and back, and teeth too."

Although he is only seen on base with the birds two to four times each week, a lot of time and effort must be spent training the birds and working with them, he said.

Mr. Leu said. "I train them for about a month before we begin, but sometimes it's less. If you buy birds of prey that are already trained, you also buy some other people's problems."

Training and interacting with birds has been a passion of Mr. Leu's for years. His interest began at the age of four, when he would seek books and everything else he could find about birds. He owned his first bird when he was nine and years later owned many sparrows. He has been the base falconer for the past 10 years.