Airplane-Bird Strikes – Ornithology

Orville Wright hit a bird with the Wright Flyer while flying over an Ohio cornfield in 1905. On October 4, 1960, Eastern Air Lines Flight 375 struck a flock of European starlings during take-off. All four engines were damaged and the aircraft crashed in the Boston harbor with 62 fatalities. Bird collision with aircraft is commonly known as a “bird strike.” Although most bird strikes do not result in crashes, they may cause serious economic damage due to damage to the airframe. Over the years, as planes got faster and lighter, collisions with birds became more of a hazard.

Bird hazards differ among different airports, but most all have wide-open expanses of grass that attract blackbirds, meadowlarks, starlings, pigeons, and geese. Airports located on the coastline or near wetlands attract waterfowl and gulls. During migration, large flocks of birds pose hazards if an airport is in a migratory flyway. The most dangerous time of year is July to October when young birds have left the nest and when migration begins.

There is a Bird Strike Committee, USA, which lists some bird strike facts as: 11,405 wildlife strikes, 97% birds, were reported in 2020, a decrease from the 17, 359 strikes reported in 2019 but it 2021 the number jumped to 15,400. There is an FAA Wildlife Database that you can search for specific incidents. Also, a new unfortunate record: the 600th species of bird was recorded – a Cerulean Warbler. You can read the report here.

  •  To mitigate the risk of bird strikes, airports and airlines take measures such as:
  1. Wildlife management programs: Airports and airlines employ wildlife management programs to minimize the presence of birds and other wildlife on and around airport property. These programs use a variety of techniques, such as habitat modification, bird deterrence, and population management.
  2. Radar and visual monitoring: Airports use radar and visual monitoring systems to detect bird activity near runways and alert pilots to the presence of birds in their flight path.
  3. Aircraft design: Aircraft manufacturers design aircraft with features that minimize the risk of bird strikes, such as reinforced windshields and engines that are less likely to be damaged by bird strikes.
  4. Pilot training: Pilots receive training on how to avoid bird strikes and how to respond in the event of a bird strike.

I have a pilot’s license and flew around California for about eight years until I decided that the hobby was too expensive and risky, although I loved it. One early evening I took off from our local private airport. Just as I lifted off, a flock of Yellow-billed Magpies flew in front of me. There was nothing I could do to avoid them but they just passed in front of me. Strangely, straggling behind them was a parrot trying to keep up with the flock. I clipped the parrot with my propeller, or so I thought. I kept wondering during my flight “did I really hit a parrot?” When I landed, I inspected the runway and sure enough, there lay a wounded parrot, probably someone’s escaped pet. It was alive and I brought it to someone I thought could save it, but, I’m sad to say, it expired.

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