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Are Planes Safer from Birds since the “Miracle on the Hudson”?

Nearly everyone knows the story of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after a bird strike knocked out his plane's engines shortly after takeoff. After that, the three major airports in the New York City area declared war on birds, shooting and trapping as many as 70,000 gulls, starlings, geese, and other birds since the January 2009 incident. But even with these deadly efforts, the average number of bird strikes reported at LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark airports has nearly doubled, the Associated Press reported. Thankfully, at least, there have been no major incidents since U.S. Airways Flight 1549. The birds, however, haven't been so lucky. The avian death toll in six years has included roughly 28,000 seagulls, 16,800 European starlings, 6,000 brown-headed cowbirds, 4,500 mourning doves, and 1,830 Canada geese.

The less-than-friendly skies:

  • Officials also trap and relocate birds and use pyrotechnics and lasers to disperse others. Efforts are also ongoing to change the habitat surrounding airports to discourage nesting.
  • At John F. Kennedy International Airport, an official with a 12-gauge shotgun shoots birds from May through October as part of the Bird Hazard Reduction Program, aimed at reducing a burgeoning laughing gull colony in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
  • “We do our best to reduce the risk as much as possible," said Laura Francoeur, chief wildlife biologist at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the airports. "There's still a lot of random chance involved.”

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