Gliders don't travel at the high speeds that make bird strikes so devastating in airliners. However, they are also smaller, lighter and softer, and can still move pretty swiftly.

Are they also vulnerable to bird strikes? What happens when a large bird collides with a glider?


3 Answers 3


Gliders, as every other aircraft, are susceptible to bird strikes. This is a detached glider's tail after hitting a 10 kg vulture:

Detached tail due to bird strike

The accident was caused when the crew lost control of the airplane following the loss of a part of the tail assembly after the vertical stabilizer on the airplane struck a griffon vulture head-on.

Some countries are more susceptible to this kind of accidents than others. In Spain, which has a large population of vultures, I routinely hear about fatal accidents due to bird strikes.

  • 19
    $\begingroup$ More of a midair collision than a bird strike lol. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 23:32
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Great if you had a source for the fatalities per year. $\endgroup$
    – FooBar
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 8:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Injuries ... Crew ... Fatal: 2" $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @FooBar I couldn't find any official statistic and have therefore removed the estimation, but you can find many other accidents such as this one or this one. $\endgroup$
    – Gypaets
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 22:57

You aren't going fast enough for it to be a problem for fibreglass and gelcoat unless the bird is quite large, like a large eagle or vulture.

You encounter birds all the time in a glider. You soar with them. You spot one thermalling, you join him.

A hawk or eagle will pretty much ignore you unless you pass within 10 ft. I encountered a large brown soaring bird, probably a juvenile bald eagle (they don't get white heads until they are several years old), last week at about 3000 ft in a thermal and passed under it several times, close enough to see it looking back and forth to keep track of me. Then he was gone...

To them a glider is just another big bird.

On tow, you have the tug in front making a racket that drives birds away, so that's not a problem unless the tug runs through a flock of gulls or something on departure.

Some eagles have been known to dive and attack gliders if you fly under them. Bad news for the bird if it takes on the leading edge. I've never heard of a composite glider being substantially damaged by a bird strike but I suppose it's happened and could be a problem if a large bird hit the horizontal tail or the wing while diving.

For me, bird encounters are always the highlight of any soaring flight.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Huge difference between "bird encounter" and "bird strike"! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if you'd like to revise the first sentence in light of the other answers; it seems conclusively proven that large birds do have enough kinetic energy to be a threat to composite gliders. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2020 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ Yes made some edits thanks. I soar where you rarely encounter really big birds, mostly hawks. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ When juvenile hawks are competing for new territory in the spring, they'll stoop at radio-control gliders (typical wingspan 1.5 to 3 meters). But you can usually outmaneuver them, and after a few such climbs and dives, they wander away in a huff. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 22:11

I had a glider collision with what I believe was a golden eagle (possibly a juvenile bald eagle). It dove at me while I was thermalling. I think it was trying to scare me, but must have misjudged and slammed into my leading edge. Did quite a bit of damage, but didn't affect flight characteristics and I was able to land safely. Unfortunately I watched the body of the eagle fall a couple thousand feet to the ground.Damage to composite glider wing


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