Ranking the Risk of Wildlife Species Hazardous to Military Aircraft

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Wildlife Society Bulletin





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Collisions between birds and aircraft (birdstrikes) pose a major threat to aviation safety. Different species pose different levels of threat; thus, identification of the most hazardous species can help managers identify the level of hazard and prioritize mitigation efforts. Dolbeer et al. (2000) assessed the hazard posed by birds to civilian aircraft by analyzing data from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Wildlife Strike Database to rank the hazardous species and species groups. A similar analysis has not been done for the military but would be useful and necessary. Military flight characteristics differ from those of civilian flights. During the period 1985-1998, birdstrikes cost the United States Air Force (USAF) an average of $35 million/year in damage. Using the USAF Birdstrike Database, we selected and evaluated each species or species group by the number of strikes recorded in each of 3 damage categories. We weighted damage categories to reflect extent and cost of damage. The USAF Birdstrike Database contained 25,519 records of wildlife strikes in the United States. During the period 1985-1998, 22 (mean = 1.6/year) Class-A birdstrikes (>$1,000,000 damage, loss of aircraft, loss of life, or permanent total disability) were sustained, accounting for 80% of total monetary losses caused by birds. Vultures (Cathartes aura, Coragyps atratus, Caracara cheriway) were ranked the most hazardous species group (Hazard Index Rank [HIR] = 127) to USAF aircraft, followed by geese (Branta canadensis, Chen caerulescens, HIR = 76), pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, P. occidentalis, HIR = 47), and buteos (Buteo sp., HIR = 30). Of the smaller flocking birds, blackbirds and starlings (mostly Agelaius phoeniceus, Euphagus cyanocephalus, Molothrus ater, Sturnus vulgaris, HIR = 46), horned larks (Eremophila alpestris, HIR = 24), and swallows (Families Hirundinidae, Apodidae, HIR = 23) were species groups ranked highest. Coupling these results with local bird census data to adjust hazard rank indices to specific locations can facilitate hazard management and lead to meaningful reductions in hazards and costs associated with birdstrikes.