Why can’t birds avoid planes?

On Christmas Eve 2014, an American Southwest Airlines plane carrying nearly 150 passengers was forced to make an emergency landing after colliding with a flying bird. So why didn’t the feathered human friends escape when a huge metal object hit the birds?

Because it is difficult to conduct field experiments without causing casualties, wildlife researchers chose the virtual reality approach. They played pictures of a group of brown-headed starlings approaching them at speeds of 60 to 360 kilometers per hour in a closed space to study the bird’s response. Scientists have found that starlings focus on the distance between themselves and trucks rather than on the speed of trucks. In an article published online recently in the Journal of the Royal Society B, they said that the starlings always flew 30 meters away from the truck.

Researchers say this strategy may help them escape from natural predators such as hawks, but cars on highways and other vehicles that run at speeds of more than 120 kilometers can be fatal to them. More research is needed to confirm whether other birds and animals have similar behavior habits, but researchers say special lights can be installed on aircraft to warn birds to avoid at longer distances.