At a controlled airport, the tower advises large flocks of small birds at the approach end of the runway.

I'm in a small trainer aircraft like a Cherokee or Cessna 172. Should I request to land the other way (Rwy 9 vs 27), proceed as normal but just expect them to only be a distraction? What are the best options here?

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    $\begingroup$ You can climb much faster than they can. So if you stay above them (by a good 50-100ft) than you can either land long (if it's safe to do so of course) or do a low-approach and it might scare them away. Just keep your eyes out because more may be on the way to join them. When it comes to birds the most dangerous place to be is underneath them because they dive when they get scared. When they are on the ground the risk is minimal (if not on the runway you need) keeping in mind they will probably start flying when you get close. Also birds off to the side may cross the runway at anytime. $\endgroup$ – p1l0t Jan 23 '14 at 22:41

I think the answer depends on what the birds are doing, but all options are basically "at the pilot's risk" - the tower is just advising you there are some birds hanging around the airport, but nobody can say how they're going to react to you trying to land there too.

  • If the flock is airborne and flying across the final (completely neglecting to coordinate their movements with tower, as birds are wont to do) you can request an extended downwind until they've moved on.
    This has happened to me twice, and in my experience birds tend to be far less interested in airports than pilots. They're usually gone in a minute or two.

  • If they're sitting on the runway somewhere you can try a low pass over the field to scare them off, but my preference would be to ask the tower/unicom operator if they can chase them away for me with a ground vehicle (so I'm not near the flock in case they decide to disperse "upward" instead of "outward").

  • If they're just pecking around in the grass near the approach end of the runway looking for lunch Skip Miller & p1l0t have the right idea with a go-around or low approach/overflight to scare them off.
    (This is part of why a low pass over an unattended uncontrolled field is often advisable -- you'll hopefully scare off any critters on the runway that you wouldn't want there when you actually land.)

  • If they're "airport birds" you might want to just land.
    Some of the airports by me have resident flocks of birds that I'm convinced just sit there and rate people's landings - I swear I saw the same birds every day shooting touch-and-gos.
    These are the kind of birds that aren't going to scatter when you do a low pass unless you hit them with your landing gear, so just be aware of where they are (in case they lose their minds and try to commit suicide by propeller) but they probably won't bother you.

I don't think I'd ask for a downwind landing because of birds (unless we're talking geese or hawks or something), but if it's a calm-wind day, the pattern is empty, and you're more comfortable with that idea go ahead and ask. The worst the tower can do is say "unable".

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    $\begingroup$ "Airport birds" haha yes my home base is bordered on one side by a river. So not only is it flat, but being at sea-level, surrounded by a huge dyke with trees on top, it's also near a city, and a trash plant on the North side there are numerous birds on and in the vicinity with winter being the only exception. We have a bald eagle, huge swarms of starlings (they nest too everywhere), crows, seagulls, and wild turkey. Those are the "airport birds" too. We also get visits from hawks, Canadian geese, and others. $\endgroup$ – p1l0t Jan 24 '14 at 23:36

The best option is to go around. Maybe the noise of you passing overhead will scare them into the air and they will land elsewhere.


The biggest problem you face in a propeller aircraft when going through a flock of birds is instant IFR. You don't want to do that on landing.

I had the experience of a flock of Canadian geese taking off as I was committed to takeoff while soloing as a student pilot. It was a spectacular mess, right out of a Friday the 13th Movie (or Indiana Jones).

I had to fly by instruments to climb to a safe altitude then maintain straight and level. Then I had to search the plane for some spare paper towels that I used to create a clear area in the windscreen so that I could see to land (reaching out the side window).

Thus, it is best to stay away from the birds. If they take off, you can abort the landing and climb. If the runway is long enough, you can land long, past the birds.

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    $\begingroup$ spare paper towels that I used to create a clear area in the windscreen so that I could see to land - grim $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Apr 25 '16 at 14:09

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