70,000 Birds Killed To Clear New York City Flight Paths

But bird strikes are still on the rise.
Gulls have been major victims of bird-strike eradication programs.
Gulls have been major victims of bird-strike eradication programs.
Kativ via Getty Images

Nearly 70,000 birds have been killed in a bid to make flight paths safer for New York City-area planes since 2009 — but it doesn’t appear to have reduced bird strikes.

The slaughter was triggered by the accident eight years ago that forced hero pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to land in the Hudson River after his plane engines sucked up several geese.

According to statistics compiled by The Associated Press, after the killings, bird strikes by planes taking off or landing at New York’s LaGuardia and New Jersey’s Newark airports actually increased. The airports tallied 158 strikes per year in the five years before the Hudson River accident and an average of 299 per year in the six years after it — even though tens of thousands of gulls, starlings, geese and other birds were killed after the emergency river landing.

At Kennedy Airport, which routinely killed birds before Sullenberger’s crash because it’s on a major migration route, the number of reported strikes has also increased — though the number of birds killed has dropped slightly.

The killings — and statistics — are disheartening to bird lovers. “There has to be a long-term solution that doesn’t rely so extensively on killing birds and also keeps us safe in the sky,” said Jeffrey Kramer, of GooseWatch NYC.

Despite the numbers, airport officials are convinced the killing programs have made flights safer because there hasn’t been a similar Sullenberger crash.

After the Hudson crash geese were primarily targeted around LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark. They were shot out of the sky by wildlife officials or rounded up in traps and killed.

Among the 70,000 birds killed were 28,000 seagulls, 16,800 European starlings, 6,000 brown-headed cowbirds and 4,500 mourning doves. Close to 1,800 Canada geese were also eradicated.

Planes hit birds over New York daily but they rarely cause accidents. Sullenberger’s Fight 1549 flew into an entire flock of Canada geese on Jan. 15, 2009, shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia. The encounter took out two engines and Sullenberger was forced to land — safely — in the Hudson River. All 155 people on board survived. His story, starring Tom Hanks, is featured in the movie “Sully.”

Bird strikes have been an issue since 1905 when Orville Wright struck a bird over an Ohio cornfield, notes the Illinois Dispatch Argus. More than 255 people have been killed worldwide because of bird strikes since 1988.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this post referred to the Tom Hanks movie as “Miracle on the Hudson.” While the event has been referred to as that, the movie’s given title is “Sully.”

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