Q: How likely is it I'll hit a bird when I'm flying, and what do I do if it happens?
Birds, the scourge of the skies! Those little winged menaces don’t respect any of the published federal aviation regulations. And what’s worse is that bird strikes are on the rise. In fact, unwanted collisions with all kinds of wildlife are becoming more frequent. According to a report the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released in February 2021, wildlife strikes jumped by 6% between 2018 and 2019, and the data are probably getting worse.
How can we be so sure? The FAA actually has a National Wildlife Strike Database where it keeps track of this sort of thing in an effort to improve aviation safety, as well as the safety of the wretched avians who are causing these problems in the first place.
So, how likely is it that a bird strike incident will happen to you?
Well, many factors factor into your bird strike probability factor. For example, if you’re flying along a migratory route during migration season, your chances are obviously higher. However, if you’re flying over the ocean at 12,000 feet and the closest land is 100 miles away, then you can rest a little easier. The good news is that given the relatively small number of bird strikes versus the number of flight hours logged in the United States each day, bird strikes are actually pretty rare.
But with instances of sparrow-versus-Skyhawk on the rise, you still need to know what to do should a bird strike occur.
Fly the Plane
Depending on where the bird strike occurs on your aircraft, the incident could range from being a minor nuisance to a Captain Sully level emergency. For instance, if a tufted titmouse glances off your fuselage, the only evidence of the encounter may be your relieved reaction that it wasn’t worse. But if a fatted goose lumbering through the sky engages the leading edge of your wing with the force of a frozen chicken fired from a cannon, you could find yourself struggling to maintain control as you find a suitable place to land.
Notify Air Traffic Control
If it’s safe to do so, get on frequency to let ATC know that you’ve had a bird-versus-airplane encounter, your condition, the size and number of birds you noticed, and your location. The controllers will want to warn other pilots. Also, let airport personnel know if the reported bird strike happened near an airport. You have a duty to do so under Part 139.
Lastly, the FAA would greatly appreciate your further assistance in identifying the bird species. Scrape a representative sample of “snarge” from the skin of your aircraft, put it in a plastic bag of some form, seal it well, and mail it to the Smithsonian Institution Feather Lab for morphological and DNA analysis. For more information on acquiring and shipping a sample, refer to this page on the FAA website.
Until next time, this is Capt. Harv wishing you bird-free skies.
Capt. Harv is the greatest pilot to ever live...if you ask him. When he isn't flying circles around you without ever leaving straight-and-level flight, he's straightening out your questions about aviation on the worldwide web. Follow him on Twitter and YouTube to become a better pilot.