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Preventing bird plane strikes with prairie grass

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Large birds or thick flocks can be hazardous near airports, but rather than use harsh techniques to discourage nearby birds, Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio is using natural habitat to remove the birds that most threaten planes. According to Fox News, the airport is converting space under the most frequently used takeoff and landing pathways to tall prairie grasses in the hopes that Canada geese, which typically stay out of longer grasses where predators may be concealed, will avoid those areas.

Canada geese and other large waterfowl, including ducks, are among the greatest threat to planes. Gulls and raptors are also large enough to do significant damage if they collide with planes, and flocks of smaller birds, such as European starlings or red-winged blackbirds, can also be a hazard. While the larger birds typically avoid long grasses – though raptors may hunt in the area if there are sufficient rodents to provide prey – smaller birds could adapt to the prairie habitat, depending on which grasses are planted. Grasses without seeds will be the most effective, as they offer less food for foraging birds.

In addition to discouraging birds, prairie grasses can be beneficial to the airport in other ways. They require much less maintenance and help control water runoff.

The FAA Wildlife Strike Database reports that more than 11,000 wildlife strikes were recorded in 2013, with 97 percent attributed to birds. Only 601 of those collisions were damaging, and the majority of the harshest collisions occurred at or below 500 feet of altitude. While these numbers are lower than in prior years, birds continue to pose grave threats to aircraft, particularly as airports grow busier and wildlife habitats continue to shrink, drawing more birds to undeveloped fields, marshes and other habitats that surround airports.

The Dayton International Airport has committed to testing the effectiveness of prairie grasses in reducing bird strikes for the next three years, and if successful, other airports will likely follow this responsible example.

Learn what other methods many airports use to minimize bird collision risks!

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