Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Mon January 25 2016

Which Species Are Involved In the Most Bird Strikes?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | January 25, 2016

Which Species Are Involved In the Most Bird Strikes?

Bird strikes are on the rise. The number of collisions between large birds (those capable of causing damage) and airliners rose by 37 percent between 2000 and 2014. In 2014, there were 284 major bird strikes, the most ever recorded since the FAA started counting in 1990. 

It is a bit ironic that the increase in incidents of this kind is most likely related to conservation efforts that have resulted in the banning of certain pesticides and the restoring of wetland habitats where birds thrive. Because of this, it becomes a simple mathematical ratio: more birds (especially in urban areas) and more commercial flights mean a higher chance of bird strikes. 

Larger species can do the most damage

One of the species that can do the most damage to large planes, Canadian geese, have more than doubled in population in the U.S. over the past 25 years. Furthermore, these large birds are very comfortable in urban settings and are not scared away by the normal noise and activity at an airport. 

VIDEO: TravelPulse Founder Mark Murphy Talks Bird Strikes With CBS News

Several groups around the world are studying bird strikes in the hopes of ultimately limiting the number of incidents. This is easier said than done. Even large birds are rendered completely unidentifiable when they collide with airplanes traveling at several hundred miles per hour. Scientists usually have to identify whatever remains of the bird (feathers, blood) by looking at its DNA. Researchers at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History are doing just that. They have been able to offer insight into the types of birds that collide with airliners in the U.S.   

Beware of geese and vultures (and bats)

The results: geese account for the most bird strikes. The Smithsonian counted more than 700 collisions between geese and planes between 2000 and 2014. Vultures and herons were also common victims, while owls, ospreys and eagles were each involved in about 100 collisions over the same time period. 

Different species are hit by airplanes in India. The increased incidents of bird strikes there is directly related to the increased number of commercial flights. India’s National Centre for Cell Science has identified a number of species from their remains, while another group at Mumbai International has performed the same kind of study. These studies showed that barn owls are among the most likely to collide with airliners. 

READ MORE: Top Birdwatching Spots in the World

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that some of the species that were involved in bird strikes on the subcontinent were not birds at all. Three kinds of bats were cataloged in significant number. The winged rodents fly in flocks and like airport grounds because they offer open spaces in otherwise crowded cities. 

Chasing birds away from the flight path

One of the most practical suggestions for limiting bird strikes is to remove the reason for birds to be near an airport or a flight path. Most winged creatures fly because they are looking for food. One of the easiest ways to discourage them from flying into a certain area is simply to remove the source of food. This is often easier said than done, but it is sometimes possible. An Australian study suggested that airports could spray grassy areas to eradicate grasshoppers or other insects that birds saw as food sources. Another suggestion was to do away with grass altogether inside airport grounds because some birds saw it as a natural habitat. 

The increasing bird populations in the U.S. has been seen as a major success for conservationists. However, it does mean that airports have to explore ways of decreasing the danger from bird strikes. 


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