BASH program works with Mother Nature

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
With a reported 10 bird strikes on 116th Air Control Wing aircraft this April and May, there is a simple explanation for the phenomenon - spring migration.

"There is literally on some nights a broad cloud of birds moving through Middle Georgia in the spring. It's greatly influenced by weather conditions," said Bob Sargent, 78th Air Base Wing natural resources manager and wildlife biologist.

"We expect to see an increase in bird strikes - when we're flying at low altitude at night - during spring and fall migration," he continued. "Nearly all of these birds are very small, weigh just a few ounces, and fly low altitude (the majority below 2,500 feet), and they get airborne within a few hours following sunset."

What can be viewed as a 'sudden' in-crease in bird strikes recently isn't unprecedented. From the latter part of March through about the third week in May is when 25 to 30 percent of annual strikes occur, said Sargent.

In the fall, we'll see the same pattern; however, that migration period is longer as birds are heading south for the winter. They are voraciously feeding as they go in an effort to pack on as much energy as possible, as most of the birds have to make the long flight across the Gulf of Mexico, he added.

During spring, birds are in more of a hurry to head north to compete for the best breeding territories. Flying at night allows small birds to take advantage of cooler evening conditions and reduces the risk of predators.

"With so many birds in the air space, there's a greater risk of planes hitting them," he said.

Those planes include the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, which due to training requirements tend to perform a majority of the night-time flying at Robins.

To help reduce risk, air crews are made aware of the presence of migratory birds. In some cases flying activities are restricted.

"We usually restrict sunset and sunrise arrivals and departures from November through March to avoid massive flocks of wintering blackbirds," said Maj. Edward Berg, 78th Air Base Wing and Installation flight safety chief. That move has been a success story.

The restrictions are part of the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard program here. The BASH program includes two working group meetings per year, timed specifically to occur right before migration. Even with the strikes experienced in April and May, there was no reported damage to aircraft. And, although there was damage in the past, education and awareness are key to avoiding future strikes.

Past BASH measures included building a fence along the eastern portion of the airfield to prevent other wildlife from entering. Not only birds can disrupt operations on the flightline; deer, hogs and other animals have been known to pose a nuisance.

Capturing and relocating geese is also an important initiative - using dispersing techniques when necessary.

Looking at an aerial map of Central Georgia, Robins is an attractive area for migratory birds to rest and feed, said Sargent. Birds use areas such as the river corridor east of the base, forests in Twiggs County, and the habitat within the Flint, Ocmulgee and Oconee river watersheds.

"More than 60 percent of the birds that breed in the northern U.S. are migrants," he said. "In winter, they're passing through the south to their wintering ground."

No one person or organization manages all aspects of BASH, according to Sargent. It's a community effort, and assistance is received from bird watchers across the state.

The BASH program continues to evolve, and is one more tool to help maintain safety.

"You don't alter nature, or migration which has evolved over thousands of years," Sargent said. "What we do is educate, and when necessary, alter the way in which we fly in order to minimize risk."