Birds can be a serious hazard to aviation. Bird collision with aircraft is commonly known as a “bird strike.” Although most bird strikes do not result in crashes, they may cause serious economic damage due to damage to the airframe. Over the years, as planes got faster and lighter, collisions with birds became more of a hazard.
Bird hazards differ among different airports, but most all have wide-open expanses of grass that attract blackbirds, meadowlarks, starlings, pigeons, and geese. Airports located on the coastline or near wetlands attract waterfowl and gulls. During migration, large flocks of birds pose hazards if an airport is in a migratory flyway. Certainly the airports of the Sacramento Valley fall into this category.
There is a Bird Strike Committee, USA, which lists some bird strike facts as:
- Over 219 people have been killed worldwide as a result of bird strikes since 1988.
- Bird and other wildlife strikes cost USA civil aviation over $650 million/year, 1990-2009.
- About 5,000 bird strikes were reported by the U.S. Air Force in 2010.
- Over 9,000 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported for USA civil aircraft in 2010.
I have a pilot’s license and flew up and down the valley for about eight years until I decided that the hobby was too expensive and risky for me, although I loved it. One early evening I took off from Ranchaero, our local private airport, surrounded by orchards. Just as I lifted off, a flock of Yellow-billed Magpies flew in front of me. There was nothing I could do to avoid them but luckily they passed in front of me. Strangely, straggling behind them was a parrot trying to keep up with the flock. I clipped the parrot with my propeller, or so I thought. I kept wondering during my hour-long flight “did I really hit a parrot?” It happened so fast. When I landed, I inspected the runway and sure enough, there lay a wounded parrot, probably someone’s escaped pet. It was alive and I brought it to someone I thought could save it, but, I’m sad to say, it expired.