What is a Bird Strike?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bird strike or Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) is an incident in which a bird collides with an aircraft. Bird strikes represent a significant aviation hazard, and they are a cause of concern among many pilots, because although they are relatively rare, they can be catastrophic when they occur. A number of techniques can be used to reduce the possibility of bird strikes, and to prevent severe damage when these events do occur.

Even a massive aircraft like the Boeing 747 can be damaged by bird strikes.
Even a massive aircraft like the Boeing 747 can be damaged by bird strikes.

Typically, a bird strike takes place during takeoff or descent, when the plane is in a low altitude area frequented by birds, although strikes can occur at higher altitudes. In some cases, the bird simply collides with the plane without causing any damage, although it may leave an unsightly mess behind. In other instances, birds can shatter windshields, break through the skin of the aircraft, or cause damage by being sucked into engines. Jet engines are particularly vulnerable to bird strike damage because a cascading effect can be created as the engine's parts are bent and distorted by the impact, distributing the damage to other parts of the engine.

Crop dusters are particularly vulnerable to bird strikes because they fly so low.
Crop dusters are particularly vulnerable to bird strikes because they fly so low.

One might reasonably wonder how a small bird like a starling, gull, or goose can possibly cause damage to a huge airplane like a Boeing 747. The answer is physics. The plane is going extremely fast, and when something collides with something which is going very fast, the resulting damage can be very significant. If a bird hits at the right angle or in the right spot, it can bring a plane down, especially in the case of a multiple bird strike, where a plane hits several birds.

Though modern turbofan jet engines are designed to be resistant to bird strike damage, such an event can still require that their intake fans be replaced.
Though modern turbofan jet engines are designed to be resistant to bird strike damage, such an event can still require that their intake fans be replaced.

Ironically, airports often provide great habitats for birds and other wildlife. Since the area around an airport is cleared for navigational purposes, the off-limits areas around airports create an ideal spot for birds to live, especially around airports in coastal cities, as these airports are often surrounded by natural wetlands. Birds tend to congregate around airports because they provide habitat, and as a result, they increase the risk of bird strikes.

Most bird strikes occur during takeoff or landing.
Most bird strikes occur during takeoff or landing.

Some airports use a variety of measures to control birds, with the goal of reducing the hazard by reducing the number of birds. Many planes are also designed with failsafes to prevent bird strikes or to ensure that the plane will continue operating if it is damaged by birds, and pilots are trained about bird strikes and how to avoid them. Tools like radar, for example, are used to identify flocks of birds so that they can be avoided. Fatalities are a result of bird strikes are very infrequent, but BASH incidents cause substantial amounts of damage to civil, military, and private aircraft every year.

Incidentally, for those readers who may be wondering, there is an official term for the smear of pulverized bird left behind after a bird strike: snarge. Aviation safety officials often inspect the snarge to identify the species involved and to learn more about the precise path of the bird strike.

Jet engines are particularly vulnerable to damage when a plane hits a bird or flock of birds in mid-air.
Jet engines are particularly vulnerable to damage when a plane hits a bird or flock of birds in mid-air.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

bythewell

@pastanaga - That would only work as a temporary fix, though, because eventually feeding the birds extra would result in more birds which will eventually expand back out to where they were in the first place.

Bird strike is a problem, but it's not as bad as it used to be and they are getting better at preventing it.

pastanaga

@Iluviaporos - Planes are pretty noisy. I think if that noise and huge flying shape isn't enough to clear birds away, then nothing else is going to work.

I actually wonder if it wouldn't be worth while to feed birds in places far away from the airport, but close enough to lure as many local birds in as possible. If they are all crowding around tourists a mile away then they aren't going to be clogging up the space around the runway.

lluviaporos

I remember being puzzled that they have a lot of signs around my local airport asking people to refrain from feeding the birds, because it is a popular tourist sight and usually they encourage ducks and things around places like that.

But it would be terrible if there was an increase of bird strikes just because people think it's a good idea to feed their fries to the birds around an airport.

I'm surprised there isn't some other measure that can be taken though, like something that would clear the birds from the skies before the plane takes off.

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