Dealing with Bird Migration

Dealing with Bird Migration

With the start of the bird migration season this week, millions of birds will fly from various colder countries to Israel and its neighboring countries, and will pose a hazard for IAF aircraft

Shachar Zorani | Translation: Eden Sharon

The spring has arrived to Israel, the sun is out, and the trees and flowers are in bloom. Every year, the beautiful weather invites an enormous number of migrating birds who are seeking refuge from the colder countries. “Being an artery that connects three continents, Israel is a central migrating junction”, says Major Tal, head of Bird Monitoring and Aerial Safety Department. Bird migration is a wonderful thing to watch, but can also be extremely dangerous for the IAF aircraft.

500 Birds jeopardizing the aircraft
Bird movement has an effect on IAF activity in the skies. Last week’s accident is a stark demonstration of the challenge the birds represent. An IAF fighter jet was flying above the Northern Sea of Galilee, and although the pilot warned of an approaching flock of birds, the speed of the jet prevented it from diverting and led to a direct hit with a seagull. “We are aware of the seagulls flying in the area”, detailed Major Tal. “The high speed of the jet caused a brutal bird strike which damaged the canopy”.

During migrating season, the Israeli skies are filled with approximately 500 million migratory birds, a considerable number when the safety of aircraft has to be taken into account. Back in the 1980’s, Professor Yosi Leshem, in cooperation with the IAF, began researching the subject. “The main migratory routes of these birds were discovered through this research”, says Major Tal.

Besides the birds’ routes, the specific time of migration is also a crucial factor, but unlike other parameters, it is easier to predict. “The birds’ sensors respond mainly to light. With the spring, the days grow longer and there is more light, and the birds begin to migrate”, says Major Tal.

The Solution: Ground & Aerial Activity
Different limitations are imposed on the pilots, in coordination with the bird movement. “In some areas, pilots are not allowed to fly under 3,000 feet. In other areas, the speed is limited”, explained Major Tal.
In addition to the restrictions, the IAF has a special radar center in charge of monitoring bird movement and conveying the information to the airbases.

Bird strikes are a part of the IAF history, and have even caused the death of three air crew members. “After every incident, the awareness increases”, determined Major Tal. “The dynamism of bird movement makes it difficult to reduce accidents to zero, but we have managed to reduce hits dramatically and minimize damage to our aircraft”. The work is not done, and the people of the IAF continue to work with international experts to improve it’s radars in order to facilitate better tracking of birds.