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National Wildlife Strike Database Records 600th Bird Species Struck by Aircraft

Richard A. Dolbeer, PhD, Science Advisor, Airport Wildlife Hazards Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, 6100 Columbus Ave., Sandusky, OH 44870, USA

Carla Dove, PhD, Principal Investigator, Smithsonian Institution Feather Identification Lab, PO Box 37012, NHB E-600, MRC 116, Washington, DC 20013, USA

Phyllis R. Miller, Scientific Data Technician, Airport Wildlife Hazards Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, 6100 Columbus Ave., Sandusky, OH 44870, USA

Michael J. Begier, National Coordinator, Airport Wildlife Hazards Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250, USA

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) National Wildlife Strike Database (NWSD) contains about 245,000 records of bird and other wildlife collisions with aircraft, 1990 to July 2020. This total consists of about 231,800 strikes with civil aircraft in the USA, 4,300 strikes with U.S.-registered civil aircraft at foreign airports, and 8,900 strikes with military aircraft at U.S. civil airports. Through interagency agreements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (WS) program and the Smithsonian Institution Feather Lab provide support for maintaining the NWSD. WS edits all electronically reported strikes to insure data quality and consolidation of duplicate reports. WS also enters strikes from various sources that are not reported through the FAA on-line reporting portal (https://wildlife.faa.gov/). The Smithsonian Institution Feather Lab identifies bird and other wildlife species struck by aircraft by subjecting remains sent to the lab to morphological and DNA analyses (Dove et al. 2020, Dolbeer et al. 2020).

In July 2020, the NWSD reached a milestone with the identification of the 600th species of bird struck by aircraft, 1990 – July 2020. A cerulean warbler (Setophaga cerulean) was identified by the Feather Lab from remains submitted from a strike at an airport in North Carolina on April 28, 2020. In addition to being the 600th species of bird, this was the 40th species of New-World wood warblers (family Parulidae) entered in the NWSD. On April 28, this bird would have been migrating north from its wintering area in Central and South America to its forested nesting habitat in eastern North America. The cerulean warbler population has declined by about 70% since the late 1960s, based on North American Breeding Bird Survey data (1966-2017, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/). Bird strikes with aircraft are just one of many obstacles Neotropical migrants face during their annual cycle of nesting and long-distance migration.

Most native birds in the USA are covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) which gives legal protection to over 1,000 species of birds that migrate among Canada, Russia, USA, Mexico, and Japan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2020). Thus, the management of birds at airports in the USA is biologically and legally complex, requiring accurate identification of the species involved; an understanding of each species behavior, feeding habits, and migratory patterns; and compliance with federal (MBTA), state, and local regulations. In general, federal (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and state permits must be issued for any management actions that result in killing, trapping, or nest or egg removal of any species covered under the MBTA. State (and sometimes local) permits are usually required for species not covered by the MBTA. These legal requirements for a wide range of species, other environmental restrictions, and the widespread public interest in birds necessitate that wildlife management programs at airports are overseen by professional “qualified airport biologists” (Federal Aviation Administration 2019).

Of the 600 species now in the NWSD, 509 (84.8%) are protected by the MBTA; these species comprised 89.9% of the 108,142 strikes in which the bird was identified to species level (Table 1). Invasive or introduced birds in North America (category 3 in Table 1) comprised 26 (4.3%) of the 600 species and 10,455 (9.7%) of the 108,142 total strikes.

There are about 950 extant bird species found at least casually for part of year in the USA (including Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. Territories) with an additional 150 species classified as accidental (American Ornithological Society 2020, Wikipedia 2020). Thus, the NWSD now contains about 57% of all bird species found in USA. Dolbeer et al. (2021) provide a detailed analysis of bird and other wildlife strikes involving civil aircraft in USA, 1990-2019. This analysis includes a tabular listing of all bird species struck with the associated number of strikes, strikes causing aircraft damage or a negative effect on flight, strikes involving multiple birds, and reported costs.

Literature cited

American Ornithological Society. 2020. http://checklist.americanornithology.org/taxa. Accessed August 16, 2020.

Dolbeer, R. A., M. J. Begier, P. R. Miller, J. R. Weller, and A. L. Anderson. 2021. Wildlife strikes to civil aircraft in the United States, 1990-2019. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Airport Safety and Standards, Serial Report No. 26, Washington, DC., USA. (in press).

Dove, C., M. Heacker, F. Dahlan, J. F. Whatton, and S. Luttrell. 2020. Annual report 2019, Birdstrike identification program. Smithsonian Feather Lab, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA.

Federal Aviation Administration. 2019. Qualifications for Wildlife Biologist Conducting Wildlife Hazard Assessments and Training Curriculums for Airport Personnel Involved in Controlling Wildlife Hazards on Airports. FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-36B.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2020. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-and-regulations/laws-legislations/migratory-bird-treaty-act.php. Accessed August 16, 2020

Wikipedia. 2020. List of birds of the United States. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_the_United_States. July 2019. Accessed August 16, 2020.


Table 1. Regulatory classification of bird species identified in strikes with aircrafta in the Federal Aviation Administration National Wildlife Strike Database (NWSD), 1990 – July 2020, in relation to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

Regulatory classification of bird species struck

Number (%) of species

Number (%) of strikes

Migratory species native to North America (either breeding or in migration) and federally protected by MBTA

509 (84.8)

97,237b (89.9)

Non-migratory species native to North America but not protected by MBTA (regulated at state level: Families Odontophoridae (quail), Phasianidae (turkeys, grouse, ptarmigans, prairie chickens)

16 (2.7)

343c  (0.3)

Invasive/introduced species in North America (including Hawaii) not protected by MBTA (regulated at state/local level: e.g., European starling, house sparrow, rock pigeon, zebra dove, monk parakeet, mute swan)

26 (4.3)

10,455d (9.7)

Species struck at foreign airports outside of North America that are not protected by MBTA

49 (8.2)

107  (0.1)

Total

600 (100)

108,142e (100)

a Reported bird strikes with civil aircraft in the USA, U.S.-registered civil aircraft at foreign airports, and military aircraft at U.S. civil airports.

b Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura; 11,711), killdeer (Charadrius vociferous; 7,477), barn swallows (Hirundo rustica; 7,329), American kestrels (Falco sparverius; 6,886), and horned larks (Eremophila alpestris; 6,334) comprised 40.5% of the MBTA species struck.

c Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo; 100), ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus; 97), and greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; 41) comprised 69.4% of the non-migratory species struck.

d European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris; 5,261, rock pigeons (Columba livia; 3,669, and house sparrows (Passer domesticus; 419), and zebra doves (Geopelia striata; 386) comprised 93.1% of the invasive/introduced species struck.

e The NWSD also contains about 104,000 strikes with unidentified birds, 23,000 strikes with birds identified to species guild (e.g., gull, duck, heron), and 9,900 strikes with bats, terrestrial mammals, and reptiles.

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