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Avian Radar: Does it Work?

Avian Radar: Does it Work?

 Since the Wright brothers first took flight in 1903, bird strikes have been a concern for pilots around the world. The search for better tools and methods for preventing such collisions continues to this day with WS leading the way.

 One tool receiving considerable attention is the avian radar. These systems have the potential to track bird activities near airports during the day and night—providing real-time estimates of bird locations, altitude and speed which could warn pilots and ground personnel of potential wildlife hazards.

 To evaluate the ability of such systems to detect and track free-flying raptors and waterbirds, NWRC and Indiana State University researchers compared data gathered from a Merlin Aircraft Birdstrike Avoidance Radar (DeTect, Inc.) and field observers at the Terre Haute International Airport in Indiana.

 “We decided to focus our initial studies on large species, such as turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, Canada geese and sandhill cranes,” states NWRC research wildlife biologist Travis DeVault. “A field observer would tell our radar operator when a bird entered the study area and provide updates on the bird’s location every few seconds. The operator would confirm whether or not the bird was being tracked by the radar. Such an approach helped us identify instances when known birds were not tracked by the radar system.”

Most of the large, single birds seen by field observers within 2 nautical miles of the radar were tracked by the radar about 30 percent of the time. Flocks of large birds, even those that were located several nautical miles away, were tracked by the radar about 40 to 80 percent of the time.

The results suggest that avian radar can be a useful tool for monitoring bird flock activity at airports, but less so for monitoring single, large birds such as raptors.

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