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8 April 2015 Cowbird responses to aircraft with lights tuned to their eyes: Implications for bird–aircraft collisions
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Abstract

Collisions between birds and aircraft (bird strikes) are expensive, risk human lives, and increase bird mortality. Aircraft lighting has been proposed as a potential means of enhancing avian responses to aircraft. Determining the optimal changes to lighting to reduce bird strikes is a complicated problem because avian visual systems differ markedly from that of humans. Icteridae, including Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater; hereafter “cowbirds”), are involved in bird strikes, have a well-described visual system, and respond to approaching vehicles and lights. Our goal was to assess cowbirds' responses to a remote-controlled (RC) aircraft fitted with lights tuned to the cowbird eye. On the basis of perceptual modeling (i.e. visual physiology, object and background reflectance, and ambient light conditions), we found that 470-nm lights (“blue” portion of the human spectrum) would be the most conspicuous wavelength for cowbirds. We used field experiments to examine cowbird response to 470-nm light treatments. Cowbirds exhibited alert behaviors to a stationary RC aircraft with lights on (both continuous and pulsing) in less than half the time they took to do so with lights off. In response to an approaching RC aircraft, cowbird alert responses were delayed at higher aircraft speeds with the lights off, and we noted a less pronounced speed effect with pulsing lights. However, this interaction effect of aircraft speed and lighting was eliminated with continuous lights. Additionally, higher ambient noise levels delayed cowbirds' avoidance responses to the RC aircraft, possibly influencing cowbird behavior as a sensory distractor. We suggest that some types of lighting may enhance the birds' detection and visual tracking of aircraft at high speeds and, thus, holds some potential as a means of reducing the frequency of bird strikes. This sensory-based approach also has implications for management of other bird–object collision problems.

Megan S. Doppler, Bradley F. Blackwell, Travis L. DeVault, and Esteban Fernández-Juricic "Cowbird responses to aircraft with lights tuned to their eyes: Implications for bird–aircraft collisions," The Condor 117(2), 165-177, (8 April 2015). https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-14-157.1
Received: 1 October 2014; Accepted: 1 January 2015; Published: 8 April 2015
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