Aircraft lights make it easier for birds to see and avoid aircraft, possibly helping to reduce the risk of bird strikes, according to a report recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Indiana State University and Purdue University tested the response of Canada geese to three remote-controlled aircraft -- one with lights off, one with lights on, and one painted to resemble a bird of prey. They found geese responded more quickly to avoid the aircraft with its lights on. The research "could set the aviation industry on the right track to developing lighting systems that will reduce the rate of bird strikes," the report said.
Currently, most efforts to control bird strikes focus on removing birds from the airport environment, according to the report. However, many encounters between airplanes and birds -- including the most famous, US Airways Flight 1549, which ditched in the Hudson River after bird strikes killed both engines -- occur far beyond the airport perimeter. The researchers hope to expand their study to other species besides Canada geese, so they can design aircraft lighting that will be seen by a wide range of birds. "This is only the first step," said Bradley Blackwell, of the USDA National Wildlife Research Center. "As well as lighting, we also want to understand how to manipulate aircraft paint schemes so that birds find them easier to detect." The full report is available online.