At DFW Airport, bird strikes drop with help of old-fashioned research

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

An extensive research project at DFW International Airport has led to a sharp drop in some species of bird strikes that's now catching the eye of other airport operators nationwide.

This week, hundreds of airport movers and shakers are in Dallas for the 2017 North American Bird Strike Conference.

DFW is playing host during the three-day event, which includes the usual mix of seminars and vendor displays with the latest technologies aimed at preventing bird strikes.

Much of the talk this year, though, has been about research spearheaded by DFW's wildlife operations unit three and a half years ago.

"There's only one thing that keeps them, and it's the need for survival," says Cathy Boyles, the airport's biologist.

In early 2014, the airport started to notice a spike in birds swooping in and out of its 5,100 acres of air operations, specifically pigeons and Mourning doves.

Boyles says pigeons are potentially the most dangerous bird when it comes to plane strikes, so staff knew they needed a plan.

"I kept going out to the field, in the drought, and couldn't figure out the food source," she says.

A botanist was brought in to take a closer look at the airport's vegetation.

The team matched certain plants and seeds with what they found in dead birds. Using certain herbicides and other treatments, they were soon able to drastically reduce the tasty vegetation.

Boyles says this year, they've only had one pigeon strike, while Mourning dove strikes are down by close to 50 percent compared to 2015 and 2016.

She doesn't have recent figures for overall bird strikes, but those numbers could be decreasing, as well.

According to Federal Aviation Administration data, reported wildlife strikes at DFW soared to more than 450 in 2014. That figure dropped to about 430 in 2015.

From January through May of 2016, the latest stretch for data is listed on the agency's website, DFW recorded only 160 strikes. 

Boyles says research, coupled with the airport's other preventative measures like propane cannons and radar, could finally be making a big dent.

"Now, we're getting rid of the stuff that makes the birds come to the airport," she said. 

by Todd Unger, WFAA