Bird strike research

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Glenn Milligan‘s letter to the editor criticizing Frank Blair’s comments on cormorants and bird strikes.

If Milligan is going to be critical of Blair’s research, he should perhaps be more willing to do some of his own. As an ornithologist who has been studying seabirds here in Down East Maine for nearly 30 years, I feel that I am qualified to comment.

Milligan stated that the population of cormorants has increased dramatically since 1980. Sadly, this simply isn’t true. According to the Maine Dept. of Inland Fish and Wildlife, there were 28,760 cormorant nests in Maine in the 1980s. By 2008, these numbers had fallen to 9,536. Losses are even greater in the Mount Desert Island region.

If you look at the seven largest cormorant colonies in our area in 1984, we had 2,311 nests. This number had decreased to 494 by 2008. Observations by my students and me suggest this decline has continued.

The days when we saw long skeins of cormorants flying over the bays are gone, perhaps forever. I should note that the state population of herring gulls has declined by nearly 40 percent since their peak in the early 1970s.

Milligan rightly cautions us not to assume that “the future will be like the past.” I agree, however it seems odd that while discounting the past he would like to suggest that some mythical “increase” in cormorants would lead to an increase in bird strikes. FAA records show that since 1990 we have had no bird strikes by cormorants at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport. There were three by “unknown birds,” only one of which caused damage – the same number as cited for deer.

If we had no cormorant strikes when cormorants were much more abundant, it seems an odd future indeed in which we will get more strikes when we have fewer birds.

Milligan’s suggestion that the unknown bird category may mask dozens of cormorant strikes seems a rather convoluted way of suggesting that the absence of evidence is evidence. The FAA lists 128 known double-crested cormorant strikes in the whole of the United States since 1990, out of a total of 163,329 bird strikes. That is less than an eighth the number of mallard ducks involved in plane strikes during the same period.

Does it not seem far more likely that most of the “unknowns” are mallards? Is Milligan going to press for an extirpation of duck habitat next?

The citing of an article describing “an aircraft being destroyed after swerving to avoid a bird while landing at Matinicus Island” is frankly peculiar. That article clearly identifies the bird as a bald eagle. Perhaps opponents might better employ their time trying to convince the earnest but perhaps misguided residents who have been constructing eagle nesting platforms over the past couple of decades to cease and desist. He might also consider the impact of the green lawns and golf courses on the growing population of Canada geese. Geese were involved in 1,579 bird strikes nationwide according to the FAA, nearly half of which lead to aircraft damage.

Ultimately what I see in Milligan’s letter is an attempt to bring in irrelevant information to what is really an argument about aesthetics and the uses of our shared waterways. I think that the case for and against aquaculture should be argued on those terms without the bogeyman of bird strikes. Were I seriously concerned about bird strikes, I would not myself use the Hancock County-Bar Harbor airport or encourage my family and friends to do so.

John Anderson

College of the Atlantic

Bar Harbor

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