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Runways Gone Wild

Scientists work to prevent planes from colliding with wildlife

Greg Balor/Alamy

Wildlife strikes can put planes and passengers in danger. Birds pose the greatest risk.

We’ve got a terrapin on the runway!” During the summer, this is a common message pilots radio in while landing at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in New York City. 

The airport is one of the busiest travel hubs in the U.S. It’s also right next to a body of water called Jamaica Bay. During the summer, female terrapins come ashore looking for a sandy spot to lay their eggs. Sometimes the turtles wander onto the runways.

We’ve got a terrapin on the runway!” This is a common message pilots say on the radio during summer. It happens when pilots land at John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport in New York City.

This airport is one of the busiest travel hubs in the U.S. It’s also right next to a body of water called Jamaica Bay. Female terrapins come ashore during summer. They’re looking for a sandy spot to lay their eggs. Sometimes the turtles wander onto the runways. 

Turtles aren’t the only ones causing trouble on runways. Across the country, run-ins with rodents, foxes, and many different types of birds are common. Scientists are working to keep runways clear of wild animals so planes can take off and land safely. 

It’s an important job. Wildlife strikes, or collisions between airplanes and animals, damage planes and hurt or kill wildlife. Usually, passengers don’t notice collisions, and planes land safely. But wildlife strikes cause about $900 million in damage each year. 

Airports attract animals because they look like a patch of wilderness. “To animals, the airport looks like a good spot to find food and water,” says Laura Francoeur. She’s the chief wildlife biologist at JFK.

Turtles aren't the only ones causing trouble. Across the country, different types of animals wander onto runways. They include rodents, foxes, and many different types of birds. Scientists are working to keep runways clear of wild animals. That’s so planes can take off and land safely. 

The work is an important job. Wildlife strikes are collisions between airplanes and animals. They damage planes. They also hurt or kill wildlife. Usually, passengers don’t notice collisions. The planes land safely. But wildlife strikes cause about $900 million in damage each year. 

Airports attract animals. That’s because they look like a patch of wilderness. “To animals, the airport looks like a good spot to find food and water,” says Laura Francoeur. She’s the chief wildlife biologist at JFK.

Francoeur’s team scoops up a terrapin whenever one is spotted at JFK. They take the turtle to an airport lab, study it, and release it back into Jamaica Bay.

If birds get too close, Francoeur’s team sets off firecrackers. The noise scares birds away. 

Other airports use different strategies. Shining lights at pigeons frightens them off. Blaring sirens can startle birds. Fences help keep wildlife out. 

“It will take a combination of solutions,” says Travis DeVault. He’s a biologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “No single method will solve every situation.”

Francoeur’s team scoops up a terrapin whenever one is spotted at JFK. They take the turtle to an airport lab. Then they study it. Afterward, they release it back into Jamaica Bay.

If birds get too close, Francoeur’s team sets off firecrackers. The noise scares birds away.

Other airports use different strategies. Shining lights at pigeons frightens them off. Blaring sirens can startle birds. Fences help keep wildlife out.

“It will take a combination of solutions,” says Travis DeVault. He’s a biologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “No single method will solve every situation.”

Each line represents a runway. Name the lines that are parallel.

Each line represents a runway. Name the lines that are parallel.

Circle an area where two lines intersect.

Circle an area where two lines intersect.

What kind of angles are those marked by the black dots? What is their measurement?

What kind of angles are those marked by the black dots? What is their measurement?

What is the measure of the angle marked by the orange star? What kind of angle is it?

What is the measure of the angle marked by the orange star? What kind of angle is it?

Is angle 1 equal to, greater than, or less than angle 2? Explain.

Is angle 1 equal to, greater than, or less than angle 2? Explain.

On the diagram, circle two areas where right angles are formed.

On the diagram, circle two areas where right angles are formed.

Draw a new runway parallel to one of the existing runways. Does it intersect with any other runways? Explain.

Draw a new runway parallel to one of the existing runways. Does it intersect with any other runways? Explain.

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