Worldwide, the cost of bird collisions with planes has been estimated at $1.2 billion per year. But information on bird movements throughout the year can help avoid damage to aircraft and risk to passengers.
Scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and partners have been looking for patterns in bird strike data from three New York City area airports. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
Cecilia Nilsson led this study as a Rose Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Lab, and is now at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
Study authors used weather surveillance radar from two nearby stations to learn when migration was the most intense at the airports studied. Data from the Lab’s eBird online bird observation program helped define which species occurred near the airports throughout the year.
A third source of information came from an invaluable dataset of detailed bird-strike records kept by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three airports. Species that most often caused damage were assigned a hazard score.
Species with high hazard scores include Canada Geese, Great Blue Herons, Mallards, and Turkey Vultures — with Canada Goose being the species most likely to cause damage. The greatest number of bird strikes at the three airports involved a familiar medium sized songbird, the American Robin.
Commercial aircraft are most vulnerable to bird strikes during takeoff and landing where birds and planes share the airspace; military aircraft are also at risk at the lower altitudes, because they fly low and fast during training exercises. At cruising altitudes aircraft are generally too high to encounter most flying birds.
Read more about birds in New York State.
Illustrations, from above: China Eastern Airbus A330 encounters a flock of birds at London’s Heathrow Airport courtesy Wikimedia user M. Zhou; graph showing the number of bird strikes per aircraft movement (blue bars) and level of bird movement (red line), averaged for each five-day period for the years 2013 to 2018 and combined for three New York City commercial airports by Jillian Ditner, Cornell Lab of Ornithology; and Canada Goose by Cynthia Howland-Hodson and American Robin by Lynn Marsho.