The first reported wildlife strike occurred within two years of the first-ever flight, when Orville Wright’s airplane struck a bird over an Ohio cornfield in 1905. From this first incident to one that occurred just a little over a century later involving the Miracle on the Hudson, in 2009, wildlife has continued to pose increasing challenges to commercial, military, and general aviation aircraft globally. In the United State alone, over 20,000 wildlife strikes are reported each year involving birds, bats, reptiles and terrestrial mammals, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and occasional loss of human lives.
Bird Strike Committee- USA (BSC-USA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), military branches, manufacturing industries, and many private and government individuals and offices have been working to address these issues for decades. But quieter engines, increased populations of large birds such as waterfowl and raptors, and increased numbers of flights have challenged these efforts.
Each year, over 97% of reported strikes involve birds. A recent decline in damaging wildlife strike rates within the airport environment indicates airport wildlife management programs at airports certificated for passenger service are having a positive effect. But bird strikes outside airport boundaries continue to be the challenge of the future.
The numbers of reported strikes continues to increase annually. Experts agree this is not because there are more strikes, but more people are reporting strikes, due to increased awareness throughout the aviation community, and more wildlife hazard mitigation programs at more airports across the nation.
For more information about Wildlife Strike challenges to aviation and how BSC-USA and others are working to address them, see the links to helpful resources provided below. In addition included are some quick facts on the subject. For comments or more information, contact the current BSC-USA Chair.
Visit the FAA’s Wildlife Strike Hazard Mitigation Website for Policy and Guidance, Publications, FAA Contacts.
FAA Wildlife Hazard Mitigation Program Fact Sheet for links to FAA-sponsored and supported programs and publications.
1990-2015 FAA/USDA Annual Report- Wildlife Strikes to Civil Aircraft in the United States for the most recent annual report, with facts, photos, statistics related to Strikes
- Strike reporting in the United States is a voluntary program. Experts agree that the information captured by the current system accurately reflects the overall hazards to aviation safety.
- The first reported bird strike occurred in 1905, when the Wright Flyer flown by Orville Wright struck a bird over an Ohio cornfield.
- The first bird strike fatality occurred in 1912, when Calbraith Rodgers’ aircraft struck a gull over Long Beach, CA.
- In 1890, about 60 European starlings were released in Central Park, New York City. Starlings are now the second most abundant bird in North America with a late-summer population of over 150 million birds.
- In 1960, the first commercial aviation disaster involving a bird strike occurred at Boston Logan Airport. The aircraft, after striking a flock of European Starlings on take-off, crashed in the Boston harbor, killing 62 people and injuring 9 others.
- In 1995, the worst recorded military disaster involving birds in the U.S. occurred at Elmendorf AFB. The aircraft struck Canada geese and was destroyed, causing 24 fatalities.
- Over 262 people have been killed and 250 aircraft destroyed world-wide as a result of wildlife strikes since 1988.
- About 13,700 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported for USA civil aircraft in 2015.
- About 4,500 bird strikes were identified for the U.S. Air Force in 2016.
- From 1990-2015, USA airlines reported 53 incidents in which pilots had to jettison fuel to lighten load during a precautionary or emergency landing after striking birds on takeoff or climb. An average of 14,300 gallons of jet fuel was released in each of these dumps.
- Waterfowl (29%), gulls (21%), raptors (21%), and pigeons/doves (7%) represented 80% of the reported bird strikes causing damage to USA civil aircraft, 1990-2015.
- Over 1,100 civil aircraft collisions with deer and 500 collisions with coyotes were reported in the USA, 1990-2015.
- About 90% of all bird strikes in the U.S. are by species federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
- From 1990-2015, 529 different species of birds and 43 species of terrestrial mammals were involved in strikes with civil aircraft in USA that were reported to the FAA.
- The Smithsonian Institute’s Feather and DNA Identification Lab at the National Museum of Natural History identifies thousands of bird strike samples (feather or fluid/tissues) annually. In fiscal year 2016, over 9,400 samples were identified.
- The North American non-migratory Canada goose population increased nearly 4 fold from 1 million birds in 1990 to over 3.5 million in 2016. About 1,600 Canada geese strikes with civil aircraft have been reported in USA, 1990-2015; 42% of these strike events involved multiple birds.
- A 12-lb Canada goose struck by a150-mph aircraft at lift-off generates the kinetic energy of a 1,000-lb weight dropped from a height of 10 feet.
- The North American population of snow geese increased from about 2.1 million birds in 1980 to over 5.5 million birds in 2016.
- The nesting population of bald eagles in the contiguous USA increased from fewer than 400 pairs in 1970 (2 years before DDT and similar chlorinated-hydrocarbon insecticides were banned) to over 15,000 pairs in 2016. From 1990-2015, 230 bald eagle strikes with civil aircraft were reported in USA. Mean body mass of bald eagles = 9.1 lbs (male); 11.8 lbs (female).
- The Great Lakes cormorant population increased from only about 200 nesting adults in 1970 to over 200,000 nesting adults in 2015, a 1,000-fold increase.
- The North American white pelican populations increased 11-fold from 1980-2015.
- The North American osprey population increased over 3-fold from 1980-2015. In 2015, 35 osprey strikes with civil aircraft were reported in USA.
- Several species of gulls have adapted to urban environments. At least 15,000 gulls were counted nesting on roofs in USA cities on the Great Lakes during a survey in 1994.