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DNA may be key to bird hits on planes
The West Australian Ditched in the Hudson: Airline passengers wait to be rescued on the wings of a US Airways Airbus 320 jetliner that safely ditched in the frigid waters of the Hudson River in New York in 2009, after a flock of birds knocked out both its engines. File picture: AP Photo/Steven Day

Murdoch University research scientists are tapping DNA to take a giant step forward in the battle to reduce birdstrikes at airports.

The study, to be published in BioMed Central's open access journal Investigative Genetics, involved examining the DNA of semi-digested food from the stomachs of birds that have collided with planes to see what attracts them to airports.

Researchers examined 77 carcasses from Perth Airport over a year, paying particular attention to the nankeen kestrels, galahs and herons, species of major concern.

Megan Coghlan, who conducted the study, said the research had a serious motivation.

"Animal collisions have directly caused 221 fatalities since 1988, and everyone will recall US Airways flight 1549, which was forced to ditch in the Hudson River in 2009 following an encounter with a flock of Canada geese," Ms Coghlan said.

She said the airline industry was spending more than $1 billion a year to fix planes that had hit birds. The study team collected a large amount of dietary data from 16 species, confirming the kestrel fed mainly on mice, locusts and grasshoppers.

The galah, however, was targeting an invasive weed species, erodium, while herons were eating an invasive mosquitofish that lived in the airport's waterways.

According to Murdoch University, the airport has many ways of reducing the numbers of birds around the airport but this new approach allows better insights into mitigation strategies.

"We were able to gain valuable conservation insights into avian diets and pass this information on to airport managers to help manage birdstrike risk," Ms Coghlan said.