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Lights Tuned to Birds’ Eyes May Help Reduce Bird–Aircraft Collisions


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Collisions with birds are one of the most common hazards to aircraft, causing $700 million in damage annually in the U.S. However, customizing aircraft and runway lights to birds’ visual systems maybe a way to reduce bird strikes, according to a paper published this week in The Condor: Ornithological Applications. Megan Doppler of Purdue University and her colleagues determined that blue light (light with a 470-nm wavelength) would be most conspicuous to the Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) used in their study. Outfitting a remote-controlled model airplane with lights in this color, they tested how the captive flock reacted to continuous versus pulsing lights and to a stationary versus approaching aircraft. When the aircraft was stationary, cowbirds became alert more quickly when the lights were on than when they were off; when the aircraft approached the birds with lights off, their response times slowed as the aircraft’s speed increased, but lights helped mitigate this effect. The authors have several suggestions for applying their findings to real-world situations, including syncing stationary lights along runways with taxiing aircraft to help capture birds’ attention before aircraft take off and using lights onboard the aircraft during takeoff to improve birds’ ability to detect and react to such large, fast-moving objects. Read the full open-access paper at http://www.aoucospubs.org/doi/full/10.1650/CONDOR-14-157.1.

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