BIRDS AT AIRPORTS

Alfred J. Godin
State Director (retired)
USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services
Augusta, Maine 04330

Line drawing of birds at an airport

 Bird Strikes

Birds are a serious hazard to aviation. A bird or a flock of birds that suddenly rises from a runway or surrounding area may collide with incoming or departing aircraft and cause the aircraft to crash, possibly resulting in the loss of human life. Bird collision with aircraft is commonly known as “bird strike.”

Damage caused to aircraft usually results from collision of one or more birds with the engines and/or fuselage. Although most bird strikes do not result in crashes, they do involve expensive structural and mechanical damage to aircraft. The incidence of this problem worldwide makes bird strike a serious economic problem.

Birds have been a hazard to aircraft from the first powered flight. During the early days of aviation, when aircraft flew at slow speeds, birds had little difficulty in getting out of the way. Bird strikes were infrequent and damage was mainly confined to cracked windshields. The likelihood of the loss of aircraft and/or human lives was remote. With the development and introduction of jet aircraft, bird strikes became a serious hazard and costly problem. Faster speeds mean birds have less time to react to approaching aircraft. The force generated by bird impact with a fast-moving aircraft is tremendous. The newer turbine engines use light-weight, high-speed mechanical parts which are vulnerable to bird strike damage.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prescribes rules governing wildlife hazard management at certified airports in the Federal Aviation Regulations: Part 139. The USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services program recognizes the potential for aircraft accidents and loss of human life and considers bird hazards to aircraft a top priority. This program provides technical assistance to alleviate bird hazards to civilian airports and military airbases.

Legal Status

Most bird species are protected by federal and state laws. The legal status of problem bird species at airports should be determined before control is attempted. Migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (16 USC 703-711), while nonmigratory species are protected under state laws. Some species are further protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Pub. Law 93-205). These laws state make it unlawful to pursue, capture, take, kill, or possess migratory birds or endangered and threatened species, except as permitted by regulations adopted by the secretary of the interior. Permits to take nonendangered migratory birds are issued only when the birds are causing, or have the potential to cause, a serious threat to public health and safety and when nonlethal methods have failed to solve the problem. A state permit also may be required to control migratory and nonmigratory birds protected by the state.

Airports

No two airports are exactly alike. Accordingly, bird hazards vary from airport to airport, even when the same species are involved. The occurrence of birds at airports varies according to habitat availability, weather, season of year, and time of day.

Editors

Scott E. Hygnstrom; Robert M. Timm; Gary E. Larson

PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE — 1994

Cooperative Extension Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska -Lincoln

United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service-Wildlife Services

Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee

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