The Story Behind The Photo
Birds are one of the biggest safety risks at airports. With one exception: the Cherry Capital Airport in Michigan. That’s because Piper works there. The border collie keeps the runways bird-free – even in the most extreme conditions
A fascinating photo – and the story behind it
The eight geese waddling in the grass next to the runway have no idea. But Piper does. He knows it’s only a matter of minutes before the three o’clock flight taxis onto the runway at Cherry Capital Airport – and the birds are posing a serious flying hazard.
Piper is an eight-year-old border collie – and a US Coast Guard airport security officer. His job: to keep the runway free from pesky birds during takeoffs and landings. There aren’t many things pilots fear more than a bird flying into one of their engines. Over the years, dozens of aircraft have been brought down this way. Seconds later, Piper sprints from his base to bark at the birds, forcing them to retreat to a safe distance. Mission accomplished. The control tower gives the pilot the allclear: the runway is ready for takeoff.
Piper works four days a week in four-hour shifts, patrolling the airport. He collects sticks and detritus from the taxiways and drives away ducks, pigeons and geese. Over the past year alone, he’s driven away 2,450 birds.
The other half of the airport’s K-9 team is his handler, Brian Edwards, pictured below with Piper. “Border collies’ herding instinct means they are perfect for this job,” says Edwards. Like any other runway worker, Piper is provided with earmuffs to protect against engine noise and goggles to see in snowdrifts. He also wears boots to shield his paws from extremes of temperature: it can fall to minus 20°C in winter, while in summer the tarmac can get blisteringly hot.
The hardy pooch has only ever once called in sick, after suffering a leg fracture chasing an owl. Thankfully he was only off for a few weeks and soon resumed his familiar position on the side of the runway – much to the delight of the pilots.