Tetrapod Zoology

Birds vs planes

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Time to resort to posting images, with minimal use of text, once more. Previously we had giraffes vs planes: these pictures – which are widely available on the web and unfortunately don’t come with any details* – pretty much speak for themselves. In the image at top, an unfortunate seabird has clearly met its demise on the nose-cone of… some sort of plane (my powers of identification don’t extend outside the subject of tetrapod zoology). I assume that the bird is an albatross, probably a Wandering albatross Diomedea exulans, or perhaps a Short-tailed albatross Phoebastria albatrus (though the feet are the wrong colour) or Royal albatross D. epomophora [nope: wrong wrong wrong. See comments].

* Although that’s not to say that such details aren’t known to someone.

These photos (below) are perhaps more impressive. The bird is, I think, an American black vulture Coragyps atratus, and again it has had a collision with one of those airplane things, this time with the taily-fin part (sorry if I’m using the wrong terminology). I don’t think the bird survived. Actually, I’m kidding about being a dumbass on planes: this is a T-44A, a twin turboprop plane (and the bright orange shows that it was used for training military personnel).

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I see no indication that these photos are faked. Indeed bird-strikes are a well known and much researched hazard of aviation; they actually account for the single greatest cause of accidents sustained by military aircraft at least, according to this article on the subject by the Ministry of Defence. Research centres such as the Air Force Arnold Engineering Test Center in Tennessee fire both artificial birds and humanely dispatched chickens at aircraft prototypes. This research involves firing the deceased birds at the cockpit via a cannon called a ‘rooster booster’. I like birds more than planes, but that still sounds like a cool job. And seriously, a lot of effort goes into trying to minimize the risk of bird-strikes to planes on airfields. It’s somewhat less difficult however to minimize such collisions hundreds or thousands of metres up in the air. It’s a good job those 200 kg + azhdarchids are extinct.

Comments

  1. #1 Neil
    January 22, 2008

    Was this post insipired by recent events at Heathrow? One of the first things i thought upon hearing what happened was “did a bird(s) get sucked into the engine(s)?” although it looks like electronics now. Interesting post 🙂

  2. #2 Bill Unzen
    January 22, 2008

    The above bird is an Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus).

  3. #3 Nathan Myers
    January 22, 2008

    The Society to Equip Azhdarchids with Radar Reflectors thus joins the Society to Equip Giraffes with Lightning Rods. Little progress has been reported on either front, sadly.

    Remarkably, Boeing 777 engines are designed to survive having a reasonably large bird (e.g. a goose) sucked in. It would be a remarkable coincidence for both engines (or, if you prefer, two geese) to suffer that fate at the same time, V-formations notwithstanding.

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    January 23, 2008

    The above bird is an Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus).

    You’re right. I had forgotten that it has slate grey legs and feet (I checked white pelicans, where the legs and feet are pink, and American white pelicans, where legs and feet are orange).

  5. #5 cfrost
    January 23, 2008

    I once had the interesting experience of flying in a tuna seiner’s helicopter at an altitude of about fourty feet over an island lagoon past swarms of boobie and frigate birds. (Clipperton Island, a few hundred miles SW of Acapulco.) Passing birds at very close range at the rate of one or two per second at what must have been at least fifty mph, I grabbed the microphone and asked the pilot what happens if we hit a bird. He said: “don’t worry, they usually just explode”. One of the helicopter’s floats had several frigate bird profiles stenciled on it denoting past collisions.

    A couple links:
    Height Distribution of Birds Recorded by Collisions with Civil Aircraft

    Canadian chicken cannons

  6. #6 David Marjanovi?
    January 23, 2008

    Actually, I’m kidding about being a dumbass on planes: this is a

    😮

    But surely there must be some area of knowledge where you aren’t an expert?

  7. #7 Jerzy
    January 23, 2008

    Sorry to be a bit harsh for amphibians. Now I decided to be only positive.

    The Society to Equip Azhdarchids with Radar Reflectors thus joins the Society to Equip Giraffes with Lightning Rods.

    I want to report the great success in this field. As of 2008, fully 100% of azhdarchids are invisible to the radar. Traditional nesting colonies in Bermuda Triangle report that disturbance by curious visitors was reduced to practically nil.

  8. #8 Billy
    January 23, 2008

    Remember, you can soar like an eagle (or pelican, or albatross, or . . .) or you can crawl on the ground like a weasel. But weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.

  9. #9 Billy
    January 23, 2008

    SEARR: Sounds like a good way to cook ’em. Searred and blackened bullfrog, anyone?

  10. #10 Richard
    January 23, 2008

    I was at Christchurch (NZ) airport recently delivering some training and they had a series of very impressive photos of the effects of birdstrikes on airliners (particularly interesting was the effect of a flock of small passerines on the nosecone of an Airbus A321 (they had peppered the nosecone producing lots of little holes and dents)). They were very big on airports not being a nature reserve which is a shame considering all the grennery around.

    Oddly I remember Stansted made a big thing about developing the perimter for nature reserve purposes even having a Natural World (BBC TV Series) episode being made about it in the 1990s sometime. Maybe in their case the woodland birds weren’t the sort to flock in the sort of numbers typically to bother aircraft??

  11. #11 Barn Owl
    January 23, 2008

    The second bird could also be a juvenile Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, though I think the legs and feet are not yellow enough to be an adult of that species. The ranges of the two vultures overlap throughout much of the southern US, and here they seem to be roughly equally abundant. Turkey Vultures are larger than the Black Vultures, and I’ve observed them to be dominant in a mixed group, squabbling over a carcass (a road-killed opossum) in my front yard. I like to see them sunning on top of a streetlight-they clean up a lot of messes that no one else would touch (e.g. Striped Skunks), even in town. The car vs. vulture situation is to be avoided, though, since the birds are usually hit when they’ve been feeding on carrion, and are slow to take off from the road.

    I remember seeing a program about bird strikes on military planes, and there was a woman who specialized in identifying the bird species from the feathers. I think the largest bird she’d identified from remains was a Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, which had gone through the windshield of the plane and seriously injured the pilot.

  12. #12 tty
    January 24, 2008

    This must have been a very benign low-speed bird strike. Usually the bird is much more fragmented and the damage from a hit with such a heavy bird more extensive. The smell is awesome too.
    Incidentally a good idea to avoid birdstrikes at airports is not to cut the grass too often. High, rank grass attracts much fewer birds than that nice well-kept sward, which is a positive magnet for e. g. starlings.

  13. #13 johannes
    January 24, 2008

    Falconry is a reasonable way to control bird populations on airports, but of course it only works if the birds in question are small- to medium sized.

  14. #14 Dave Briggs
    January 24, 2008

    It’s somewhat less difficult however to minimize such collisions hundreds or thousands of metres up in the air. It’s a good job those 200 kg + azhdarchids are extinct.

    Yes, indeed. Or we would be looking at pictures of birds wearing aircraft instead of the other way around! LOL!
    Dave Briggs :~)

  15. #15 Steve Bodio
    January 24, 2008

    Same as Johannes said. I know a lot of falconers who work airport control. Even big birds get nervous…

  16. #16 bigcitylib
    January 25, 2008

    With, the rooster booster I think the chickens they used were already stuck inside canvas bags to minimize the “splat” factor.

    As a Canadian, I am proud to announce that it was us that invented the very first “chicken cannon”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdeg9izJE3I

  17. #17 True Bob
    February 22, 2008

    Hi, I’m prowliong around here after a mention at Pharyngula (neat blog, beautiful pics and great info, thx). In a past life, I worked for the US Navy, buying airplanes. I thus got to see a fantastic video of a birdstrike test on a one piece canopy. The canopy had a grid of masking tape on it, and IIRC, the simulated speed was 400 knots. The bird (I think about 4 lbs) was not in a bag, and it splattered all over but didn’t stick to the canopy. Real time view was so fast, it looked like a blast of cloudy air over the canopy. The super slo-mo showed the immediate dent in the polycarbonate canopy, followed by waves rippling along the canopy after the bird departed. Canopy came through unscathed, but had some pretty sever deflection (the idea was to avoid injury to the aircrew). Beautiful dynamics, if you like that sort of thing.

    FWIW.

  18. #18 Janine
    December 20, 2008

    The photos of the bird in the T-44 are definitely NOT faked.

    This bird strike happened while I was in flight school at VT-31, in NAS Corpus Christi, in Texas, back in Fall 2002.

    I was not flying this plane when it happened, so I don’t know the details; I just know that I saw the plane after it was very skillfully landed by the flight instructor & I can attest to the fact that these photos were not doctored in any way. If I recall correctly, it was a turkey buzzard that they hit.

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