Date of this Version
Wildlife Society Bulletin 40(1):150–159; 2016
Bird strikes in aviation are an increasing threat to both aircraft and human safety. Management efforts have focused largely on the immediate airport environment. Avian radar systems could potentially be useful in assessing bird strike threats at greater distances from the airport, at higher altitudes, and at night, but few studies have been conducted to assess the capabilities of avian radar systems. Thus, our goal was to assess the detection and tracking abilities of a commercially available avian radar system in an airport environment in Indiana, USA, during October 2011–March 2012. Transits by free-flying birds allowed us to assess radar tracking performance as influenced by flock size, altitude, and distance from the radar unit. Most of the single large-bird targets (raptors) observed within 2 nautical miles (NM) of the radar were tracked >1 time, but such targets were generally tracked <30% of the time observed. Flocks of large birds such as geese (Branta canadensis) and cranes (Grus canadensis) were nearly always tracked >1 time, and were generally tracked approximately 40–80% of the time observed, even those several NMs away from the radar unit. Our results suggest that avian radar can be a useful tool for monitoring bird flock activity at airports, but less so for monitoring single large-bird targets such as thermalling raptors.