It’s a sad fact of life that, as long as there are aircraft, and as long as there are birds, there will be collisions between aircraft and birds. I did in fact cover the issue of bird-strikes back in January 2008, but since then I’ve learnt a few new things that I’d like to share.
For the record, I’m not covering this issue – or featuring the various photos you see here – because I regard it as at all amusing or frivolous; quite the contrary. As I said in the 2008 article, bird-strikes pose a serious hazard to aircraft, most typically during landing and takeoff, and they also result in pretty horrible deaths for birds that find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Collisions with cockpits and engines have resulted in numerous emergency landings and crashes. One of the most serious recent incidents occurred in March 2009 when a US Airways Airbus A320 ditched in the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of geese. Expert flying by the pilot ensured by all 155 crew and passengers survived. On other occasions, the people involved haven’t been so lucky. As just one example, 62 people died in October 1960 when an airliner in Boston (Mass.) ingested a flock of starlings, lost power and crashed. In recent years photographers have been able to capture the moments when the engines of large aircraft have ingested birds such as starlings [one example here].
Turning to small aircraft, another 2009 case that got a lot of news happened in San Diego at the Red Bull Air Race. As you can see from the photos above (yes, these are genuine: not photoshopped), a very unfortunate Brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis flew directly in front of Hannes Arch’s plane and was literally shredded to bits. There are, of course, many, many, many other cases (a selection of often fairly nasty pics can be seen here). What may well be the very earliest photographed case of bird-strike was discovered recently in the archives of The New York Times. Dating to October 1916, it shows a raptor (apparently still alive) caught on the wires of a French military biplane. I can’t identify the bird – it might be a kite. There’s more information in David Dunlap’s article here.
I recently got hold of a copy of Frank W. Lane’s Animal Wonderland (the 1962, revised edition). This fascinating little book is basically an idiosyncratic (but brilliant) compilation of weird natural history stories and anecdotes, ranging from anting and piggy-backing behaviour in birds to ‘intelligent’ acts in fish and the collection of apples by hedgehogs. My copy was signed by the author, which makes it an even neater discovery. Anyway, chapter 3 is titled ‘Birds versus aeroplanes’. Lane discussed numerous cases of bird-strike, involving flocks of swans*, geese, lapwings, swallows, herons, ducks, and also individual pigeons, condors, albatrosses, gulls and so on and on.
* Lane makes the point that a group of swan is apparently called a herd, but I’ll stick with flock unless you all shout me down.
But what makes his chapter particularly interesting is that he also discussed cases where birds were not mere ‘innocent bystanders’: there are a few cases where birds have deliberately attacked aircraft. Virtually all of the cases involve eagles (though jackdaws, ravens, a falcon and a macaw are also among the aggressors he discussed). In some instances, it seems that the birds were defending nesting territories, and in one of the events the aggressor (a Golden eagle) had been shot at from the plane (an eagle eradication programme, instigated in Texas to protect domestic lambs). However, the other cases are less easily explained. Do they show that some birds, sometimes, harbour aggressive feelings towards some aircraft?
The photo shown here (from Lane (1962)) shows the cockpit of an RAF single-engine pioneer after it was attacked in December 1960 by a sea-eagle over what was then Malaya. The pilot reported that the eagle attacked talons first: it smashed through the windshield, died, and remained lodged there. According to Lane, H. T. Wilkins described French WWI efforts to train six eagles to attack enemy aircraft. The eagles were first made accustomed to the sound of propellers and gunfire, and were then taught to associate planes with rewards of food. For whatever reason, the scheme never became operational (Lane 1962).
For previous articles on accidental deaths, life-threatening injuries and such, see…
- Giraffe vs plane
- Birds vs planes
- Meteoroid vs goose… again
- Yet another bizarre and unfortunate giraffe death
- The ‘python bites fence’ photo
- Death by lightning for giraffes, elephants, sheep and cows
- Hippos are photographed biting a crocodile to death
- Babirusas can get impaled by their own teeth: that most sought-after of objects does exist! (babirusas, part VIII)
Ref – –
Lane. F. W. 1962. Animal Wonderland. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh and London.