It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s – uh oh – bye-bye birdy!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Aircraft strikes kill thousands of birds per year and cause more than one billion dollars in damage. Ugh.

Researchers at the National Wildlife Research Center wondered: Why don’t birds notice moving masses of metal?

To find out, they put wild cowbirds in a box with a video screen for one wall. On it, they played videos that simulated a truck speeding right at them.

What happened? Regardless of the truck’s speed, the birds flew out of the way when the truck was about 165 feet away. This indicates that birds judge danger by distance, not speed!

Which works, up to a point. When the truck drove below 75 miles per hour, the birds avoided it.

Above that speed? Virtual carnage. The truck just covered the distance too fast for the birds to time their escape.

And since none of a bird’s natural predators fly at jet speed–? You get the picture.

Is there a solution? Special lights on planes might give birds an earlier warning.

And maybe loud honking? Perhaps in the future. Fly, birdy, fly!