A bird in a USDA net may save lives: wildlife management at airports

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USDA net system reduces aviation bird strikes

Net deters captures birds

USDA procedures assure safe release

Civil airport applicability

According to the FAA, there have been about 179,000 wildlife strikes with civil aircraft in USA between 1990 and 2016 (about 13,000 strikes at 662 airports in 2016). About 60% of bird strikes with civil aircraft occur during landing phases of flight (descent, approach and landing roll); 37% occur during take-off run and climb; and the remainder occur during the en-route phase. From 1990 to 2016, there were 262 human fatalities attributed to wildlife strikes around the world. The reported costs for civil aircraft in USA totaled $639 million for the 23-year period, 1990 to 2012. When costs are adjusted for inflation, reported strikes in which costs were not provided, and the estimated number of strikes that were not reported, losses could be as high as $957 million per year. Gulls (19 species) are the most common type of bird struck by civil aircraft in USA, accounting for 15% of the birds identified in bird strikes, 1990-2012. Waterfowl (ducks and geese) account for 7% of the strikes but are responsible for 30% of the strikes that cause damage to the aircraft.

The airport sector, aviation industry, wildlife management and the FAA are pursuing many, different and creative means of reducing this risk:

The USDA and the US Air Force have developed an innovative system to limit the presence of birds on and around airfields to protect aircraft from bird strikes. The technology appears to have useful application to civil airports.






Here is the description of system:

From left: Ted Pepps, Mike Pacheco and Brian Washburn, U.S.

Department of Agriculture research biologists, demonstrate the

proper way to set up an electromagnetic drop net

Ted Pepps, USDA wildlife biologist, designed a drop net system for this area of operations and worked with the base’s combat metals shop to build it in-house.

“The drop net is a mass capture device,” said Pepps. “It allows us to catch more birds in a shorter amount of time. It is more efficient and effective. Back home we use it for bird control and wildlife research, and we hope to do the same here.”

The simple design horizontally suspends a 15-by-15 foot net between electromagnets powered by a car battery. The operator drops the net flat to the ground on unsuspecting birds using a remote similar to a garage door opener with a range up to about a football field.

Most birds are skeptical of changes in their environments, so USDA members do not drop the net daily. Once the birds have acclimated to the device, which normally takes a few days, they go out and drop it early in the morning while the birds are eating seed placed under the net.

Once captured, the birds are humanely removed from the area.


This solution will not completely phase out other cages and traps that require the constant attention of USDA personnel. Those methods still require the team to replenish the food and water, and they can’t leave the birds exposed to the elements. The traps must be checked often to ensure that when a bird is captured, it remains alive.

“With most traps, you use a lot of man-hours for a minimal result,” added Pepps. “With the drop net, where you pull the birds out immediately, there is not a huge time commitment with catching 50 to 100 birds.”

The entire system is mobile and can be easily placed in a variety of locations, ensuring that it can be used wherever the birds relocate, said Pepps.

The drop net system is placed away from the airfield and attracts the birds that would normally fly in the vicinity of the flight line, as well as other important areas around base.

[The article is based on Pepps use of the drop net in Southwest Asia; the pictures are drawn from his preliminary research at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.]

The Texas project included some interesting research parameters and goals:

The project’s findings, will focus on the location of the doves’ habitats at JBSA-Randolph and the surrounding areas in order to determine when the birds are on JBSA-Randolph, and where they go in the surrounding areas.

Using this research data, biologists hope to find ways to prevent the birds from using JBSA-Randolph as their habitat to prevent future bird aircraft strikes.

Washburn said it will take biologists a year to gather and analyze the data from the research project.

“We want to get a sense as to what part of the population is actually migrating away and what part is staying here year round, and that’s important when we look into our BASH operations to reduce risks,” Washburn said. “We want to know what bird behavior patterns we are dealing with.”

Washburn said project plans include capturing 1,080 white-winged doves this summer and another 1,000 doves in the winter.

Each of those doves, he said, will have a leg band with a unique number placed before the bird is released.

Of the 1,080 doves captured in the summer, 80 of them will have small radio transmitters implanted underneath their skin behind the head, Washburn said.

Pacheco said white-winged doves pose a safety threat to pilots and aircraft operations at JBSA-Randolph. When an aircraft strikes a bird, one or even two engines could be taken out.

The below USDA table shows the number of airports assisted and cooperator funding received by Wildlife Services in provision of technical and direct management assistance to reduce wildlife hazards, 1990-2013. In 2013, WS personnel provided 251 staff-years of assistance at 850 airports (625 civil, 133 joint military-civil use, and 92 military) in all 50 U.S. States, 3 U.S. Territories, and 9 foreign countries.

Aviation is aviation (not really), but birds have great variations. The drop net may not be as effective with all species. Crossover use of technology from the military is frequently beneficial.













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