If you asked me to guess how many birds are hit by planes per year in Australia, I would have likely thrown out a single digit figure. Call me naive for this, if you must. To me, the sky is very big, birds are very small, and planes make a lot of noise. It just seems statistically unlikely that that many planes would collide with that many birds. Dear reader, I regret to inform you that I was deeply, painfully wrong.
According to a report put out today by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, in the years between 2008 and 2017, there were a whopping 16,626 confirmed “birdstrikes” (their word), with 2017 alone accounting for a record-breaking 1,921.
Of those 16,626 birdstrikes, the ATSB reports that the overwhelming majority of them were “incidents” (meaning that no one was hurt, nothing was damaged or destroyed, and there was no risk of an accident), with five constituting a serious incident (nearly an accident), and 19 qualifying as actual accidents (someone was injured or a plane was significantly damaged). Of those 19 accidents, only nine resulted in minor injuries to passengers or pilots, and no serious injuries from birdstrikes were recorded in the time period. The ATSB reports that roughly one in ten birdstrikes involving planes with jet engines saw a bird get “ingested” into one of those engines, adding that there were 11 occurrences of “one or more birds” being sucked into two engines on the same plane.
Because this is aviation safety, the records are unbelievably comprehensive, with every single incident documented to an extraordinary degree. For instance, looking at the table they released, you can see that on January 1, 2008, a small twin-engine SAAB 340 hit somewhere between 2 and 10 galahs as it was landing, with an estimated total mass of 310 grams.
The report also includes 396 strikes involving land animals, providing a positively dizzying array of species that were smacked by a plane in that period, including but definitely not limited to: one bull, one Australian swamp rat, three quokkas, one sheep, one robber crab, one toad, three turtles, and one unbelievably grim one that simply reads “Pilot’s dog“.
Look, I’m just as pissed off about how much of a downer this turned out to be as you are.