It’s a Wildlife in Canadian Aviation

A flock of Canada Geese did a tonne for popularizing their species by forcing the dramatic ditching of an Airbus on New York’s Hudson River in 2008. Usually, it’s Canada’s athletes, actors and comedians who make a name for themselves by heading Stateside. This time, it was Canada’s wildlife making the news south of the border.

The reality is, Canadian wildlife are quite active in inflicting harm to aircraft on, or above, their own national soil. While not much is heard about it, Transport Canada (T.C.) reports annually on wildlife strikes to Canadian aircraft. As with most things, there’s always something interesting to be learned from the data.

Canadian wildlife aircraft strike data is reported to T.C. from four sources: voluntary reports by private and commercial pilots, voluntary reports by airlines, mandatory reports by Department of National Defence pilots, and mandatory reports by Canadian airport operators. Information is mostly gleaned from incidents derived from Canada’s major international airports. This, by extension, means the reported strikes primarily implicate commercial aircraft.

In 2008, 1,230 bird strikes were reported of which 1,202 occurred to Canadian aircraft at Canadian sites. (The remainder were inflicted to Canadian aircraft at U.S. sites.) Mammals, by comparison, are not nearly as deleterious to aircraft as birds: a mere 11 mammal strikes were reported during the year. The losing mammal in these incidents – let’s face it: the airplane usually wins – was the raccoon, with foxes and skunks coming in second. Deer, so often caught in the headlights of cars, only lost one of their kind to an aircraft runway incident in 2008.

Almost half of all bird strikes in 2008 did not identify the unfortunate avian species connected to the incident. But of the half that did, it’s the shorebird – a long-legged, long-billed bird that mostly likes coasts and wetlands – that went head-to-head with Canadian aircraft (and lost). Nineteen percent of 2008 Canadian bird strikes involved shorebirds. The next significant group, involved in sixteen percent of incidents, were perching birds – these include crows, wrens and warblers – which make up about sixty percent of all living birds on the planet. Hawks and eagles, not species that bird preservationists (nor anybody, for that matter) would want to see on the list, made up about five percent of 2008 Canadian bird strike incidents.

Summertime is a busy time for travelling. It’s also when bird populations are hitting their yearly peak. So it’s no wonder that July, August and September are not good times, statistically, to be a bird near an airport. Nor is it surprising that strikes tend to occur between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. (Birds, after all, sleep during the night too.) Quite why birds hit airplanes between 8:00 and 10:00 am more than any other period during the day surely has some reasoning behind it, although not having woken up with their morning coffee is presumably an excuse the birds can’t use.

The phase of flight during which reported bird strikes occurred in 2008 shows landing and takeoff as the most dangerous profiles. The number of strikes during these latter phases are each almost double the number of strikes which occurred during approach to a landing. Climb-out after takeoff appears as the fourth phase of flight strike incident time. Fifty-two Canadian aircraft reported strikes with birds while enroute, and virtually three-quarters of all reported phase-of-flight incidents occurred within 200 feet of the ground.

As far as commercial aircraft go, Boeing 737-700s, Bombardier CRJ100/200s and Dash-8s tend to get the most attention from imprudent birds. Cessna 172s and Piper Navajos, representing the smaller aircraft ranks, took out a disproportionate share of birds compared to other types in their class.

Wings, windshields and noses were the aircraft parts most often struck. It’s not reported if any birds survived their encounters, (though it’s not particularly likely). Eighty-eight percent of reported incidents indicated that the aircraft involved were able to continue with their flight. Though Toronto’s Pearson International reported the most bird strikes, Sudbury in Ontario and Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, had by far the highest strike rates per movement of aircraft.