FAA database shows it's not just birds! 14 alligators hit by airplanes too

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    A flock of birds, disturbed by a plane's take off, takes flight from the side of the runway of the airport in Canandaigua, N.Y. According to Federal Aviation Administration data released for the first time, pilots reported striking at least 59,776 birds since 2000. The most common strike involved mourning doves; pilots reported hitting 2,291 between 2000 and 2008. Other airborne victims included gulls (2,186), European starlings (1,427) and American kestrels (1,422)
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Yesterday we told you about the FAA's decision to make public a database that detailed specifics of aircraft collisions with birds here in the US. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the decision was part of President Obama's commitment to transparency.

After looking through the database, you discover that collisions with birds (and other wildlife) isn't all that rare. In fact, there were more than 73,000 bird strikes in the past eight years. By the way, the official acronym for these collisions is BASH – "bird aircraft strike hazard."

The most recent data shows 8,758 strikes with some kind of living being between January and November 2008. Of those incidents, 98 resulted in serious damage to the airplanes.

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But these numbers are most likely misleading because the government estimates that only a fifth of bird strikes are reported. And it's not just birds.

Crosshairs

What are the pilots hitting? Everything. Seriously.

Rabbits, dogs, muskrats, moose (!!!), skunks and white tailed deer – any animal is fair game (pardon the pun). You might feel most sorry for the turtle. When that plane gets moving, he's not going anywhere – ask the Slowskys.

The New York Times calculated that 97 percent of the reports involved birds. But get this: the victims also include alligators.

At least 14 alligators were struck by airplanes between 1994 and 2005. No word how the reptiles fared in those contests.

Sactown

On the West Coast, you stand the greatest chance of plowing into  wildlife – airborne and otherwise – in Sacramento, where 1,054 collisions have been reported in the last decade.

In order to make the airspace safer, the Sacramento airport is backing a bill that would allow officials to gun down "troublesome" birds that are in the way.

As recently as April 10, an aircraft departing from Sacramento made an emergency landing after striking a bird on takeoff. No one, save the bird, was hurt in that incident.

Most

Denver records the highest amount of incidents in the past decade, with 2,090.

The animal most likely to be hit? The mourning dove. One wonders if the bird was just called the dove before airplanes were invented.

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By the way, despite that most aircraft-wildlife collisions result in little or no damage to the plane, you can expect these types of collisions to increase.

Researchers don't  believe that the animals are becoming increasingly suicidal. Instead, populations of wildlife that are prone to aircraft collisions are flourishing, and so is air traffic. Also, modernization of aircraft makes it increasingly harder for animals to hear the planes.

"As a result of these factors (the authorities)... expect the risk, frequency and potential severity of wildlife-aircraft collisions to grow over the next decade," the FAA said.

Pilots

If you are going to hit a bird or animal, of course you want a pilot like Captain Chesley Sullenburger to be in charge. He's the one that heroically landed US Airways flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River last January.

But Captain John Morrison sounds pretty good too. The Delta pilot said most of the bird strikes go unnoticed.

"I've been doing this for 35 years," he told the Associated Press. "You know birds are out there, and you just watch for them."

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