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Venice may be known as La Serenissima, but for those who have encountered the seagulls that reside there, the experience can be anything but serene.
Seagulls are known to steal food from anyone naive enough to eat outside, rush onto cafe terraces, break dishes, snatch sandwiches from the hands of walkers and happily bite any fingers that get in the way.
Now, the winged criminals went even further, causing a one-hour shutdown and two hours of chaos at the city’s airport.
Venice Marco Polo Airport, located in the north of the city, with a runway adjacent to the lagoon, is the fifth busiest airport in Italy and the largest in the north of the country outside the Milan region.
But on Friday morning, things came to a halt when a flock of seagulls gathered at the end of the runway.
The flights were grounded between 9:54 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., an airport spokesperson confirmed to CNN. Twenty incoming flights were diverted to other airports in northern Italy: Treviso, Verona, Trieste and Milan.
While Treviso is easily accessible in 30 minutes by bus, those diverted to Trieste and Milan would have had to travel two to three hours to get to Venice.
As the airline “big birds” diverted to seagull-free airports, staff at SAVE, the airport management company, implemented their standard anti-seagull routine.
Venice Airport employs a resident falcon, which was sent by a falconer to disperse the approximately 200 birds. “Wildlife-friendly acoustic deterrents” were also used, according to an airport release.
Once the hawk finished its work and the seagulls departed, the airport resumed normal operations at 11:20 a.m.
Venice isn’t the only airport in the region to have a resident falconer. Treviso, about 22 kilometers from the lagoon as the crow flies, also uses one. Verona, which lies about 60 miles inland, is free of marauding seagulls.
Flocks of birds around airports can be dangerous for planes.
“Bird strikes,” as they are called, can cause engine failure and even accidents. The fatal accidents of Eastern Air Lines Flight 375 in 1960, taking off from Boston, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 604, landing in Addis Ababa in 1988, were both caused by bird strikes.
Even Ryanair, the European airline with the best safety record, has had trouble with birds. In 2008, a Frankfurt-Rome flight hit a flock of starlings on approach to Ciampino airport. Both engines stalled and, while the plane landed safely, two crew members and eight passengers were taken to hospital. As a result, the eight-month-old Boeing 737 was written off.
Perhaps the most famous bird strike was US Airways’ 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” flight from LaGuardia in New York to Charlotte, led by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. The plane struck a flock of Canada geese during takeoff and the crew was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.