The destructive impact of fighter jets on migratory birds

Published by Brent Patterson on

“Two CF-18s on a taxiway at CFB Bagotville, with a flight of birds in the background. If the wildlife gets too close it can result in catastrophe for the animals, the planes and the pilots.” Photo by Vicky Boutin/Radio-Canada.

The United Nations has noted that 40 per cent of all migratory birds are seeing their numbers in decline, with one in eight threatened with extinction. Notably, the bird population in Canada has declined by about 12 per cent over the last 40 years.

Among the major threat birds face are habitat loss and degradation.

Canadian Forces Base Bagotville, one of the two air force bases for CF-18 fighter jets in Canada, is situated in a migratory bird corridor.

CBC recently reported: “In autumn, snow geese and Canada geese find the long grassy verges next to the runway irresistible.”

That article notes that the air base is also surrounded by farms.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has highlighted: “In Quebec, about 15 species of farmland birds are now considered at risk.”

While Canadian figures aren’t readily available, the US Department of Defense says the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps report up to 3,000 bird strikes a year.

The Marine Corps Times has further reported that between 1995 and 2019, the US Air Force recorded more than 69,000 wildlife-aircraft strikes.

Furthermore, a research study that looked at 286 serious bird-related accidents to military aircraft from 32 countries between 1950 and 1999 found that most cases involved fighter jet or attack aircraft (at least 179 accidents).

AeroTime Hub has also highlighted: “Perching birds, sparrows, and starlings account for 22 per cent of strikes.”

Most media coverage has focused on the damage a bird can cause to an aircraft, including the world’s most advanced fighter jet. In May 2019, an F-35 fighter jet struck a bird on a runway preventing it from taking off and causing $2 million in damage.

The CBC article noted above is mostly a feel-good story on how ‘the bird man of Bagotville’ uses crow sounds amplified through a speaker on his pick-up truck along with a saker falcon to hunt or scare off geese and sparrows from the air base.

But not enough attention is given to the importance of migratory birds.

Last year, Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, commented: “Given that destruction of nature has also been linked to the kinds of infectious diseases we are now combating, taking actions to protect migratory birds and their habitats is more important than ever.”

As the Canadian government prepares to spend $12.1-million on a new infrastructure at CFB Bagotville to house the fighter jets it plans to spend billions more to purchase and operate, greater attention should be given to the impact warplanes have on migratory birds, their habitat, biodiversity, and the interconnectedness of ecosystems.

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