Be Glad Someone Takes Airplane 'Snarge' Seriously

There's a word for what becomes of birds that collide with airplanes
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2022 5:30 PM CDT
Be Glad Someone Takes Airplane 'Snarge' Seriously
An image showing a flock of starlings.   (Getty - SHODOgraphy)

Following a recent piece about the origin myth of starlings—the small black birds that move in cloud-like, synchronous flocks—New York Times writer Jason Bittel was overrun with questions and commentary about “snarge,” the term biologists and aviation professionals use for the bits or clumps of bird remains found on (or in the engines of) airplanes after midflight collisions. In a follow-up piece, Bittel digs deeper into the word's origins, which dates back to 1960, after an Eastern Airlines flight crashed into Boston Harbor. Just 10 out of 72 passengers and crew survived; investigators later determined—based on clumps of feathers in the engines—that the plane had struck a flock of starlings.

The term emerged from the Smithsonian Institute’s Feather Identification Lab, where feather expert Roxie Laybourne pioneered a critical branch of research around wildlife-aviation hazards. It's not clear whether Laybourne herself coined the term, though Bittel anoints her the "Queen of Snarge." Since then, Smithsonian ornithologists have worked with the FAA to identify and address potential risks, which vary from one airport or region to another. (Just ask Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.) Airports use various management options, such as noise cannons, capture/relocation, and even trained falcons. The aviation industry has also adapted plane engines, which are “expected to survive” most bird impacts. The FAA documented 17,358 strikes in 2019, most of which did little or no damage. Read the full story. (More snarge stories.)

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