SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Migrating ducks and planes are sharing the skies in South Dakota these days.
Pilot Dale Knuth of Hartford said pilots are always watching for birds in the sky but they are especially aware during migration.
“We know when migration is and we know it has started. All pilots are trained to look out the window,” Knuth said.
“Pilots are constantly on the lookout for potential bird strikes,” said Kyle Kelsey, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Madison.
Migrating geese or ducks can “ingest in an engine or hit the leading edge of a wing,” Knuth said.
Waterfowl can also crash through a plane’s windshield.
But, just because a bird crashes through a plane’s windshield or hits another part of the plane, “it doesn’t mean the plane will crash,” Knuth said. Still, birds can cause “major damage to an aircraft,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on a FAQ website page that “from 1988 to 2019, there were 271 civil aircraft either destroyed or damaged beyond repair due to wildlife strikes globally.” During that same time period, there were 292 fatalities attributed to wildlife strikes around the world.
Ducks and geese were among the larger birds most likely to cause damage or substantial damage to aircraft in a strike, according to a 2016 study called “Identification of off-airport interspecific avian hazards to aircraft Identification of off-airport interspecific avian hazards to aircraft.”
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its partners studied bird strike incidents at four New York airports. The study was released in 2021. It said, the risk of airplanes colliding with birds increased by as much as 400% during migration.
Knuth had planned to fly to Kansas on Monday, March 28, but needed to drive instead. On his driving route to Kansas around 7 a.m., he saw many, many snow geese near the Missouri River.
When he’s traveling in his plane he may be able to see flocks of migrating birds flying below him.
“It’s not something most people see,” Knuth said.
Kelsey said there are many snow geese who have stopped near Yankton over the past several days. The snow geese are feeding before they leave for the next open water, he said.
Those geese don’t fly very high because they are stopped near open water, Kelsey said.
Knuth said it’s low-flying birds and take-offs and landings that can cause the most problems.
“On your take-offs and landings is when you have the most chance of hitting a bird,” Knuth said.
Canada geese can summer near airports such as Tea and Sioux Falls.
“A bird doesn’t have a chance to hear you or see you,” at times during a take-off or landing, Knuth said.
Migrating birds are the only potential hazard as eagles and hawks can sometimes fly at altitudes of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, Knuth said. “They will try to avoid you,” Knuth said. “If they hear you and see you coming, they try to get out of the way,” he said.
Shorebirds and warblers can fly in jet streams, Kelsey said. A person may not see these migrating birds from the ground because they fly at higher altitudes and are smaller in size.
Radio communication, including with the air traffic control tower at the Sioux Falls regional airport, helps to inform pilots about migrating birds or the possibility of migrating birds nearby, Knuth said.