by 1st Lt. Joost Verduyn
81st Training Wing Public Affairs
1/27/2011 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Feeding the birds around Keesler, whether intentionally or by leaving bait on the docks, attracts further birds into the area and puts aircraft and aircrew at risk.
"Here at Keesler we average about 3.5 bird strikes per month," said Andrew Przytarski, 81st Training Wing flight safety manager. "Bird strikes can be catastrophic, leading to loss of life and severe damage to the aircraft."
Keesler has a unique airfield with its own unique bird strike problems. Water at the end of the runway and a marina, golf course and ball fields nearby create a great habitat for wildlife.
"Our usual culprits involve doves and starlings, but our major concerns are the larger birds such as the seagulls, geese and pelicans that patrol Biloxi's Back Bay," Mr. Przytarski explained.
Larger birds can cause catastrophic damage to an airplane. In a recent example, US Airways Flight 1549, was forced to land on the Hudson River after damage caused by
geese. The bird strikes to this plane caused the failure of both engines, resulting in total
loss of thrust for the flight.
According to Air Force bird strike data, the American white pelican, which is found at the end of the runway on Back Bay, has accounted for more airplane damage than any other bird, causing more than $257 million worth of damage to Air Force aircraft.
Keesler does many things to keep birds away. Airfield grass is kept at 10 inches in order to keep doves away. Doves are community birds that prefer shorter grass so that they
can see each other while they feed. There's also a significant effort to ensure weeds that produce seeds, a favorite food source for doves, are kept at bay.
Starlings, another common bird at Keesler, feed on insects from early May until temperatures start cooling later in the year. Insecticides are sprayed in order to keep their food sources scarce on the airfield.
Another familiar way to scare off the birds is loud noises. Base operations personnel
use noisemakers called "bangers" and "screamers" fired from a basic starter's pistol. A truck equipped with a butane cannon is also used to create a big boom to scare away the birds.
"These techniques work to a point," said Mr. Przytarski. "Sometimes the birds realize
it's just an inconvenience for them, and only move a hundred yards down the way.
"We are always looking for more ways to keep the birds away from the airfield," he continued. "The base populace can help by not feeding the birds. Feeding one seagull
can bring in 20 more in less than a minute. Once a food source becomes accessible,
birds can, and will, come from miles around to get a part of that food."