80% of Bird Strikes Are Not Reported to FAA, Biologist Says


Canada geese are particularly hard to scare away from airports. Photo: Mike Baird via flickr

After yesterday’s plane crash into the Hudson River, and hearing that it resulted from birds being sucked into both of the Airbus 320’s engines—OK the NTSB hasn’t confirmed that, but that’s what it looks like happened by all accounts—most people are probably wondering just how many birds get hit per year by aircraft, and what can be done about it.

Well, Richard Dolbeer, a biologist who studied the problem for the USDA, was interviewed by CNN and has the answers:7,000-8,000 Bird Strikes is Just the Start of the Problem
According to Dolbeer there are approximately 7,000-8,000 birdstrikes reported to the FAA every year, but the reporting of them is voluntary. Dolbeer estimates that probably about 80% of birdstrikes are not reported. Yikes! In fact the number of reported incidents is increasing: In 1990 only 1,750 strikes were reported; in 2007 7,600 were reported. Dolbeer attributes this to a bit better reporting, but also more planes in the air and the presence of more heavier-weight birds in the sky.

Conservation Efforts Have Increased Bird Populations

The root of the problem right now is that because of the very successful wildlife conservation programs in North America since the 1970s, we've seen a tremendous resurgence of many wildlife species, particularly large bird species—species that weigh over 4 pounds, including Canada geese, snow geese, bald eagles, great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, turkey vultures and black vultures.

In fact, of the 36 species of birds in North America that weigh over 4 pounds, 24 of those have shown population increases, nine have shown stable populations and only one has shown a decline in the last 30 years. The Canada goose population in the United States—the resident Canada geese, not the migrant birds from Canada—has increased from 1 million birds in 1990 to about 3.9 million in 2008.


Scare Them, Remove Them or Move Around Them
So how do prevent deadly interaction between birds and aircraft? Dolbeer told CNN that there’s no one answer, but a combination of these can work: Making airports less inviting habitats for birds (no standing water, reducing perching areas for birds, eliminating rodents), dispersing birds (using people, dogs, falcons), removal of birds when necessary (Canada geese, in particular don’t scare easily...), continue development of bird-spotting radar so that planes can be routed around bird flocks.

More of the interview with Dolbeer: CNN
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Tags: Air Travel | Birds | Transportation | United States

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