Bird strike. Generic Photograph of twelve Seagulls flying in a V shape formation on the foreground and a large commercial plane in the background against blue sky. The birds are flying left to right and the plane is flying bottom to top of the image.

These wildlife species pose the greatest threat to planes: FAA

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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials have updated the protocol for reviewing wildlife hazards at US airports, including a ranking of wildlife by the level of threat that they pose to flights.

The rankings published in a recent Advisory Circular (AC) intend to guide airport wildlife management personnel and inspectors in prioritizing the wildlife that should be kept off airport property. The list ranks wildlife species with instances of at least 100 strikes on civil aircraft.

“We based this ranking on three criteria: damage, major damage, and effect-on-flight. Noticeably missing from this table are several hazardous species that had not been struck with the minimum frequency to allow their inclusion within the analyses,” the FAA states in the AC.

“Brown and white pelicans, black vultures, great egrets and other waders as well as several species of waterfowl, raptors, gulls, and shorebirds present a significant hazard to aircraft. Although these hazard rankings can help focus hazardous wildlife management efforts on those species or groups that represent the greatest threats to safe air operations in the airport environment, care should be given to consider any hazardous species of significant mass, flocking or flight behavior, or habitat preferences.”

The AC continues: “Used with a site-specific assessment to determine the relative abundance and movements of wildlife species, these rankings can help airport operators better understand the general threat level (and consequences) of certain wildlife species and can assist with the creation of a ‘zero-tolerance’ list of hazardous species that warrant immediate attention.”

The top ranking wildlife threat to planes isn’t in the skies. It is the white-tailed deer which has recorded 84 instances of general damage to planes, 36 instances of major damage and 46 instances of damage affecting flight – a category that includes aborted take-off. The high number of incidents combined with the seriousness of the incidents have earned white tail deer a relative hazard score of 100 from the FAA.

Second on the list of wildlife hazards is the snow goose, which has a relative hazard score of 95.

The turkey vulture earned third place with a relative hazard score of 63.

The Canada goose ranks fourth with a relative hazard score of 57.

The sandhill crane and bald eagle are closely ranked as the fifth and sixth greatest threat. Both have a relative hazard score of 48, but the sandhill crane has 13 instances of major damage, while the bald eagle counts 12 instances of major damage.


To improve safety, the FAA requires airports to actively monitor wildlife activity and requires testing of aircraft fuselages, engines and radome antennas to ensure they can withstand bird strikes.

According to the FAA, there have been 198,961 wildlife strike reports between January 1, 1990 and July 31, 2017. The FAA has previously estimated the costs of bird strikes to civil aircraft to be as high as $957 million per year in the US.

The Administration has launched a number of initiatives to lessen the impact of wildlife on aviation, and to keep wildlife safe from aviation’s activities. They include engaging with communities on land use planning that will not attract wildlife to airports. The agency is also exploring technology applications that would help aviation better co-exist with wildlife, like integrating migratory bird flight paths in air space management.

These FAA wildlife management initiatives seem to be working. The FAA says that the percentage of strikes reported to have a negative effect-on-flight has declined from a high of 12% in 1996 to 4% in 2016. The change is attributed in part to a greater number of airports reporting non-damaging wildlife strikes as well as an actual reduction in the number of serious incidents.

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