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 10,000 wildlife strikes are reported each year involving birds, bats, reptiles and other terrestrial animals, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
Bird Strike Committee (BSC) USA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 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 bird strike rates at low levels (within the airport environment) indicates airport wildlife programs are having a positive effect. But wildlife 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, some quick links to helpful resources are 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.
2013 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 1960, the first commercial aviation disaster involving a bird strike occurred at Boston Logan Airport. The aircraft struck European Starlings was destroyed, killing 62 people and injuring 9 others.
- In 1995, history’s worst recorded military disaster involving birds occurred at Elmendorf AFB. The aircraft struck Canada geese and was destroyed, causing 24 fatalities
- 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.
- Over 255 people have been killed world-wide as a result of bird strikes since 1988.
- Bird and other wildlife strikes cost USA civil aviation over $900 million/year, 1990-2013.
- About 11,300 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported for USA civil aircraft in 2013.
- About 4,300 bird strikes were reported by the U.S. Air Force in 2013.
- From 1990-2013, USA airlines reported 49 incidents in which pilots had to dump fuel to lighten load during a precautionary or emergency landing after striking birds on takeoff or climb. An average of 13,000 gallons of jet fuel was released in each of these dumps.
- Waterfowl (29%), gulls (22%), raptors (21%), and pigeons/doves (7%) represented 79% of the reported bird strikes causing damage to USA civil aircraft, 1990-2013.
- Over 1,070 civil aircraft collisions with deer and 440 collisions with coyotes were reported in the USA, 1990-2013.
- About 90% of all bird strikes in the U.S. are by species federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
- From 1990-2013, 503 different species of birds and 42 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 remains samples (feather or fluid/tissues) annually. In fiscal year 2014, over 9000 samples were identified.
Species Specific Statistics
- The North American non-migratory Canada goose population increased about 4 fold from 1 million birds in 1990 to over 3.5 million in 2013. About 1,470 Canada geese strikes with civil aircraft have been reported in USA, 1990-2013; 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 greater snow geese increased from about 90,000 birds in 1970 to over 1,000,000 birds in 2012.
- 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 14,000 pairs in 2013. From 1990-2013, 175 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 2013, a 1,000-fold increase.
- The North American white pelican populations increased 6-fold from 1966-2012.
- 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.