Just like a page out of a detective novel or the next episode of CSI, USDA-APHIS researchers at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) are using forensic science to help unravel the mystery behind bird-strikes. Between 1990 and 2008, more than 87,000 bird-aircraft collisions involving 381 different bird species were reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The most common species struck by aircraft were gulls, doves and pigeons.
By examining struck birds, researchers are learning about bird behavior at the point of collision and whether birds are utilizing anti-predator strategies in response to aircraft. Ninety-two birds from 32 species gathered from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport were given post-mortem examinations at the NWRC Ohio field station. Across all birds examined, fatal injury locations were generally posterior (back end), ventral (abdomen) and on the left side of the body. Researchers concluded that the birds had taken evasive action in response to the aircraft, reflecting known anti-predator behavior. This information reaffirms other studies and helps in the development of predictive methods to reduce the frequency of bird-strikes.
Across the nation, the reporting of bird-strikes with civil aircraft has increased since 2008, possibly due to greater recognition within the flight community of the importance and method of reporting. Increased reporting will continue to assist USDA and the National Wildlife Research Center in better defining and reducing the risk of bird-strikes.
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