Sprawled along the edge of a giant coastal wetlands area, John F. Kennedy International Airport shares airspace with thousands of birds — many of which wind up as carcasses on the runways after colliding with aircraft.
For the aircraft, the results range from minor to serious.
Federal Aviation Administration data released Friday say the Queens airport has had the most bird incidents with serious damage this decade. The issue has received greater attention since a pilot successfully landed his US Airways Inc. jet in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of birds on takeoff from nearby LaGuardia Airport.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark (N.J.) Liberty International Airport, says it has an "aggressive wildlife management program" that includes disrupting birds' habitats, scaring them with fireworks and even shooting thousands of them each year.
The FAA did not say whether any of the 30 bird mishaps at Kennedy this decade had resulted in human deaths or injuries or to many aircraft being disabled. The Port Authority said aviation experts didn't recall any such incident in recent years.
The Kennedy wetlands area, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, is one of the largest urban bird sanctuaries in the eastern United States, a 9,000-acre stretch of small islands, salt marshes, fields and forest. It's part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
Wildlife experts say it's home to more than 325 species of birds, some of them year-round residents and others migratory travelers along the Atlantic Flyway.
The difficulty of bird control around Kennedy was underscored by a 2001 report, by four college professors and two National Park Service officials, saying that during the 1980s the airport had seen "exponential growth" of one species, the laughing gull, from 15 nests to about 7,900.
A shooting program between 1991 and 1998 wiped out 50,000 of the birds, the report said.
The airport with the second-most bird strikes was Sacramento (Calif.) International Airport, which sits in the middle of the Central Valley and lies along the Pacific Flyway, one of the most important bird migration routes in North America.
Earlier this month, a United Airlines flight bound for Chicago returned to the Sacramento airport after hitting a bird during takeoff. The plane was not damaged, and no one was injured.
Sacramento's problems are similar to New York's. Sacramento airport spokeswoman Gina Swankie said wildlife biologists patrol airport property but nearby bird habitat is beyond their control.
Each winter, millions of geese, swans, ducks, cranes, raptors and other birds cross the Central Valley on migration routes between Canada and Mexico.
The airport uses canons and pyrotechnics to keep birds away. Birds that are deemed immediate threats to aircraft can be shot.
John Morrison, who has been a pilot with Delta Air Lines Inc. for 20 years, said most bird strikes go unnoticed unless they're right on the plane's nose or affect the engines. Only twice has he been piloting jets when birds were sucked into the engine, both when he was in the Air Force before joining Delta.
"I've been doing this for 35 years," he said. "You know birds are out there, and you just watch for them."