Can Birds Pose a Threat to Airplanes?

Since the beginning of time, humans have gazed at birds with envy as they soared through the sky. Who wouldn’t want to have wings and experience the freedom of flight? Not only would it allow you to travel quickly from one place to another, but you would also enjoy breathtaking views along the way.

Although the Wright brothers finally gave us airplanes thousands of years later, flying in a large metal tube is far from the same as flying like a bird. Since the invention of airplanes, birds and planes have coexisted in the sky, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

Despite the seemingly unlimited space in the sky, birds and airplanes often find themselves on a collision course. Unfortunately, these encounters usually end badly for both the birds and the planes.

These collisions between birds and planes, known as bird strikes, happen thousands of times each year. Most of the time, the birds involved do not survive. Luckily, most bird strikes do not cause significant damage to airplanes or harm passengers.

However, there are occasions when large birds get sucked into airplane engines, resulting in serious damage and sometimes even causing a crash. Due to the risks associated with bird strikes, airports have implemented various safety and conservation measures to minimize the occurrence of bird strikes during takeoff and landing.

You might think that airports, with all the noise from airplanes, would not attract birds. Unfortunately, airports tend to draw large flocks of birds from different species. Birds are attracted to the vast undeveloped areas surrounding most airports, which serve as noise and safety barriers.

The busy atmosphere of airports tends to deter larger predators. As a result, the lands surrounding airports can become a sanctuary for birds, particularly if they include wetlands or drainage ponds.

So how do airports manage the issue of large bird populations near their premises? They typically take a three-pronged approach by modifying bird habitats, bird behaviors, and aircraft behaviors.

For instance, airports may make the surrounding areas less attractive to birds by removing plants that produce seeds, eliminating trees used for nesting, covering water sources with nets, and keeping the grass short. They may also adjust flight schedules and routes to avoid peak times and locations of bird activity.

Some of the most effective modification techniques involve the use of technology. Sonic cannons, lasers, recorded predator calls, and noise generators can all be employed to simulate predators and scare birds away.

One of the more adorable and furry modification techniques involves introducing an actual predator to the bird population: a specially trained dog. At Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport in Michigan, K-9 Piper, a Border collie, was employed as an aviation safety and bird management expert. Wearing a protective vest, ear muffs, and stylish sunglasses, K-9 Piper patrolled the runways and perimeter fences, chasing away birds and other small animals. Currently, there are a few other dogs serving at airports across the United States.

Give It a Try

Are you prepared to expand your knowledge about bird control at airports? Make sure to engage in the following activities with a companion:

  • Request an adult friend or family member to take you on a field trip to a nearby airport. If you reside close to a large airport, that’s fantastic! If not, any size airport will suffice. Drive around the outskirts of the airport. How much undeveloped land surrounds the airport? Keep an eye out for birds in the vicinity. How many birds of different types do you observe? Do you notice any signs of bird control measures in the area?
  • Isn’t K-9 Piper an impressive dog with an incredible job? Go online to explore the special Equipment K-9 Piper employs as he patrols the runways and scares away birds of all varieties. What is your favorite piece of equipment that he uses? Why?
  • Can you come up with any other innovative methods to deter birds from airports? Put on your thinking cap and brainstorm ideas for alternative bird control solutions that modern airports could implement. Share your ideas with a friend or family member.

Sources of Wonder



1. Are birds a danger to airplanes?

Yes, birds can pose a significant danger to airplanes. When birds collide with an aircraft, they can cause damage to the windshield, engines, and other critical components. This can result in engine failure, loss of control, or other serious incidents. In some cases, bird strikes have even caused fatal accidents. To mitigate this risk, airports and airlines implement various measures, such as bird control programs, aircraft modifications, and pilot training. These efforts aim to reduce the likelihood of bird strikes and minimize their impact on flight safety.

2. How common are bird strikes?

Bird strikes are relatively common occurrences in aviation. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are thousands of reported bird strikes in the United States alone each year. However, many more go unreported or result in minor damage. The actual frequency of bird strikes may be higher than reported, as pilots are only required to report strikes that cause substantial damage or affect flight safety. Airports located near bodies of water, farmlands, or open spaces are more prone to bird strikes due to the presence of larger bird populations.

3. What measures are taken to prevent bird strikes?

Airports and airlines employ various strategies to prevent bird strikes. One common approach is habitat management, which involves modifying the airport environment to make it less attractive to birds. This includes removing standing water, trimming vegetation, and using noise-making devices. Additionally, airports may employ trained falcons or other birds of prey to deter birds from the vicinity. Aircraft modifications, such as installing bird deflectors on engines, can also help reduce the risk. Pilots receive training on bird strike avoidance and are instructed to follow specific procedures, such as climbing or descending to avoid birds when necessary.

4. How does bird strike prevention affect flight operations?

Bird strike prevention measures, while essential for flight safety, can have some impact on flight operations. Airports may need to schedule regular bird control activities, such as habitat management or bird dispersal, which can temporarily disrupt flight schedules. In some cases, airports may implement restrictions on certain types of aircraft or require pilots to follow specific departure or arrival routes to minimize the risk of bird strikes. These measures aim to strike a balance between maintaining flight safety and minimizing operational disruptions. Overall, the implementation of bird strike prevention measures is crucial to ensure the safety of passengers and crew on board aircraft.

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