Bird strikes at commercial airports explained by citizen science and weather radar data.
Aircraft collisions with birds span the entire history of human aviation, including fatal collisions during some of the first powered human flights. Much effort has been expended to reduce such collisions, but increased knowledge about bird movements and species occurrence could dramatically improve decision support and proactive measures to reduce them. Migratory movements of birds pose a unique, often overlooked, threat to aviation that is particularly difficult for individual airports to monitor and predict the occurrence of birds vary extensively in space and time at the local scales of airport responses. We use two publicly available datasets, radar data from the US NEXRAD network characterizing migration movements and eBird data collected by citizen scientists to map bird movements and species composition with low human effort expenditures but high temporal and spatial resolution relative to other large-scale bird survey methods. As a test case, we compare results from weather radar distributions and eBird species composition with detailed bird strike records from three major New York airports. We show that weather radar-based estimates of migration intensity can accurately predict the probability of bird strikes, with 80% of the variation in bird strikes across the year explained by the average amount of migratory movements captured on weather radar. We also show that eBird-based estimates of species occurrence can, using species' body mass and flocking propensity, accurately predict when most damaging strikes occur. Synthesis and applications. By better understanding when and where different bird species occur, airports across the world can predict seasonal periods of collision risks with greater temporal and spatial resolution; such predictions include potential to predict when the most severe and damaging strikes may occur. Our results highlight the power of federating datasets with bird movement and distribution data for developing better and more taxonomically and ecologically tuned models of likelihood of strikes occurring and severity of strikes.