Air accidents caused by wild birds cause an estimated 3billion $US of damage worldwide each year, and in the worst cases can bring planes down. Indeed the incredible emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 was precipitated by bird-strike.
The problem is that most runways are surrounded by grassy areas which attract both herbivorous and insect-eating birds. But work carried out by scientists at AgResearch in New Zealand, has produced a bird-deterrent grass that can reduce avian numbers at airports.
The grass contains substances of a naturally occurring fungus which tastes nasty and make birds sick enough to decide to move elsewhere to feed and not come back.
The product is also effective against insects living above and below ground, thereby removing an attractive feed source for insect-eating birds.
The endophytic fungi live in a symbiotic relationship with the grass – and a specialised seed production process means the fungi remains viable in the seed during harvest, storage, transport and sowing.
The grass variety chosen is tough enough to stand up to airport traffic, jet blasting and braking, and able to survive on low nutrient, drought-prone compacted soils.
In trials at three airports in New Zealand, bird numbers decreased by 87% over a 12-month period where the special grass Avanex Tall fescue had been drilled compared to the existing airport vegetation.
As well as airports, researchers also say this type of grass seed could be useful in other situations where birds are a problem, including in orchards and on golf courses.