Between 1990 and 2012, bird strikes in the United States killed 23 people and injured 240, damaged nearly 12,000 aircraft, and killed more than 120,000 birds. Airplanes run into loons, starlings, grebes, pelicans, cormorants, herons, storks, egrets, swans, ducks, vultures, hawks, eagles, cranes, sandpipers, gulls, pigeons, cuckoos, owls, turkeys, blackbirds, crows, chickadees, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, mockingbirds, parrots —as well as various kinds of geese. The unfortunate reality is that airplanes collide with birds at an astonishing rate because habitats most commonly associated with airports are desirable to many types of birds, especially geese.
Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm and the Dayton International Airport, with the support of the US Department of Agriculture, have created a unique partnership to study the planting of tallgrass prairie and monoculture switchgrass near the airfield along with the usual practice of mowing turf and planting crops. The theory is that the naturally tallgrass will deter the larger birds that can bring down a plane, like geese and gulls or large flocks of starlings. These birds tend to avoid longer vegetation, which hinders their ability to spot predators, land or spread their wings to fly.
But first, Aullwood needs to discover what birds are living near or on airport property, so they are creating a volunteer bird census team to undertake a bird survey of the area. Because volunteers are making observations from some distances, Airport Bird Surveyors must have excellent bird vocalization ID skills, in addition to being able to identify birds visually. Two volunteers survey the fixed point observation locations four times a month, starting 30 minutes before sunrise on either Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday. During fall migration, the survey will decrease to twice a month. Volunteers will receive specific training on the Bird Survey Protocols and are eligible for all the benefits Aullwood volunteers receive including participating in an outstanding volunteer enrichment program. People interested in volunteering should call Nina Lapitan, Aullwood’s Volunteer Coordinator at (937) 890-7360, ext. 214 or email [email protected].
It’s the first such endeavor at a commercial airfield and Aullwood and the Dayton International Airport have the opportunity to influence the land management practices at airports around the world, encouraging the planting of native tallgrass prairies in lieu of traditional turf grass or agriculture. Limiting bird strikes is the primary objective, but the benefits don’t stop there. Tallgrass prairie is now among our most endangered habitats—only about 4 percent remains in the U.S. The vegetation provides critical habitat for threatened grassland birds like the Henslow’s Sparrow as well as birds whose population is rapidly declining like Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks. Planting prairies also reduces the airport’s carbon footprint by offsetting carbon emissions from airport operations, scaling back on the use of agricultural equipment, and reducing the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
Aullwood points out volunteer support is greatly necessary for the success of this very important work!