If you’re hoping to pilot a plane in D.C. you may want to check the skies on the weekends. The city is host to a significant number of bird strikes every year, with chances higher at certain hours of the day. And a new experimental course at Reagan National Airport is looking to find ways to curb the problem.
Fruits and vegetables actually help stabilize incoming birds, providing a cushion that some researchers are now speculating could be used to reduce losses in aviation.
Currently, some 58,000 birds have been recorded dead or “missing” on the National Mall between 2013 and 2016. This includes adult birds, birds that were carrying food for their young, and some even part of the eagle population, according to Nature Conservancy.
“If a bird gets scared by a predator, or hits a drug dart, or gets attacked by a raccoon, or something, it will defecate at any point in its life,” said Dr. Bob McPherson, who heads up a USDA field camp in Colorado that helps researchers obtain DNA samples from birds that are found dead or alive.
Using DNA collected from specimens at the study, the federal government has been trying to quantify which birds strike which airplanes. A study conducted over eight years found it to be mostly nuisance birds, meaning they were flying in a crowded area or they fought with other birds for food.
“The more nutritionally rich the bird, the greater the probability is that they will get hit by a jet engine or force an engine to shut down,” said McPherson.
Researchers have also said that it’s very important to harvest the seeds and berries of over 600 species of plants and vegetables that stop birds from jumping into aircraft engines. Vegetables like pumpkin seeds, fava beans, watermelons, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, carrots, acorn squash, celery, lettuce, sweet potatoes, parsnips, potatoes, and carrots are all food sources that researchers have found help calm a bird, or drive it away. So they’re all just a hop, skip and a jump away from the bathrooms.
But for every carrot or salad that stops a bird, that’s another bird that needs to be rescued. After all, it may be just a flight or two away from the free meal people are now dreaming of.
“If you take that one bird, that saved you, and you convert that into one buck, that’s the value that your nation would provide you if you stuck that seed in their feed,” said Dr. Steven Jones, Director of the Park Service’s National Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Past experiments have used absorbent pellets to keep away birds from aircraft engines, Jones said. They tried walking through their living quarters with a hanging net, but most birds would simply fly away. That’s where traditional soup cans, tins, and bags could really help. And then they stopped counting altogether.
Other researchers are looking at artificial dams or even tunnelled caves to repel birds, and what would keep birds from coming into agricultural fields to devour the fruits and vegetables that keep them healthy. In Connecticut, fields that are regularly visited by the public can alert farmers and growers to warn them away from birds.