Keeping Planes Safe By Driving Off Birds

US Airways flight 1549, which crash landed in the Hudson River last month, was on the move again this weekend. The fuselage was taken by flatbed truck to a warehouse where it will be kept during the investigation of the incident.

A collision with birds is believed to be what caused both of the plane's engines to fail. In the last two years, at least 26 serious bird-strikes have been reported and as CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano reports, safety officials are working hard to keep birds and planes away from one another.

At McGuire Air Force Base the weapon of choice to defend against bird-strikes has feathers, razor sharp talons, and dive bombs at more than 200 miles an hour.

"He is a predator," says Andrew Barnes, a manager with Falcon Environmental. "He is near the top of the food chain. And almost all other birds are below him in the food chain so they're food.

As a falconer, Barnes uses 9-year-old "Nantucket" to keep problem birds clear from airbase runways. Nantucket is one of ten falcons used here - one is released every hour to patrol the area. Other birds eventually learn to stay away.

When the falcon program started here at McGuire Air Force Base, bird strikes dropped 80 percent in the first year. That number has remained that low for more than a decade.

Airports across the country are thinking about the best ways to get rid of birds. At New York's LaGuardia airport, that's meant cutting grass and shrubs.

"We have a 365 days a year, 24-hour program to manage wildlife," says Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia.

But airfield managers need to know what type of birds are hitting their planes in order to make their airports an unattractive habitat, Solorzano reports. And bird identification help comes from nearly 200 miles away at the Smithsonian Institute.

For researcher Carla Dove the black box of a bird strike investigations comes in dozens of packages received daily at the Smithsonian's feather identification lab. Tiny clues such as feathers, claws and other remnants left behind when bird meets plane, known as "snarge," are used to analyze bird-strikes. CBS News was given exclusive access to the lab.

Dove and her team eagle-eyed samples from 4,600 bird strikes last year, checking out details ranging from feather structure to DNA.

"This is a case of red tailed hawks," says Dove, director of the lab. "This is a very common bird involved in bird strikes."

With the help of the Smithsonian's collection of 62,000 stuffed bird specimens, they can successfully identify a bird 98 percent of the time.

"If you know for example it's a bird that likes to nest on flat areas with low growing grass, if you just let the grass grow sometimes that will discourage those species from coming into the area," says Dove. "It's simple, but it's a complicated process, there is no silver bullet to prevent bird strikes."

But at McGuire Air Force Base, the closest thing to a silver bullet is taking flight.

"You fly a falcon and you see those thousand birds leave the airfield, and you know yourself that you've prevented that aircraft from ingesting those birds into its engine and that crew is safely on the ground, it is extremely gratifying," says Barnes.
By Bianca Solorzano