Aircraft and Wildlife Mergers

Bird strike is the term given for events involving the collision of aircraft and avian. Bird strikes are common enough that the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM 7-4-4) has a section dedicated to their hazards. But strikes with all types of wildlife are possible; we’ve even heard of midair strikes with fish jettisoned from eagles’ talons. 

Pilots understand that “mergers” with wildlife come with command decisions. FAR 91.7 requires the PIC to discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.  Pilots should consider whether a strike results in an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action (see FAR 91.3), and should not hesitate to declare an emergency if appropriate.       

Once you’re safely on the ground after a strike, FAA Advisory Circular AC 150/5200-32B offers guidance on wildlife strike reporting procedures, including information on collecting and submitting remains for identification. To promote reporting on Form 5200-7, the FAA wildlife database is now available on The FAA “strongly encourages” pilots to report a strike, but any person who witnesses or finds evidence of a wildlife strike may choose to report it. Reporting wildlife strikes will update the wildlife advisories to other aircraft and trigger required actions for the airport managers, who have a duty to mitigate wildlife dangers.

After an aircraft sustains a strike, the PIC must ensure that any appropriate aircraft maintenance inspections and airworthiness signoffs are accomplished before further flights. Any wildlife remains recovered may be sent to FAA-Smithsonian for species identification; this is useful to maintain safety around airports and to aid aircraft manufacturers in engineering safer designs.

In addition to being eligible for an FAA wildlife strike report, strikes may also require a report to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Both accidents and certain serious incidents require immediate NTSB notification. The strike may be an accident if it results in any person suffering death or serious injury or the aircraft receives certain substantial damage. Even if it’s not an accident, the strike may require NTSB reporting if it meets any of the certain serious incident criteria in NTSB 830.5 including among other things, flight control system malfunction or failure, and inability of any required flight crew to perform normal duties due to injury. For more on accidents and incidents, see this article.

If the strike does not result in an accident that is reportable to the NTSB, the pilot may consider chirping about the event by making a de-identified report through the NASA-Aviation Safety Reporting System. This may offer some benefits for the pilot and for the national airspace system.  For more information on wildlife strikes in general, visit FAA’s fact sheet.

Cristina Zambrana
Cristina Zambrana is an in-house attorney with AOPA’s Legal Services Plan who counsels Plan members on a daily basis. She is an Airline Transport Pilot with type ratings in the A-320, B-737, DHC-8, and EMB-145. The AOPA Legal Services plan is offered as part of AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services.

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