Science in action

05 July 2011

Bird strikes are set to take a plunge at Auckland Airport after the introduction of a special grass called Jackal.

Developed by AgReseach scientist Chris Pennell, the grass contains a natural fungus or endophyte that produces chemicals harmless to birds, but that make them feel sick when they eat it.

The endophytic grass also reduces insect numbers, making areas where it is growing less attractive to insect-feeding birds.

Since April, about 27 hectares of the grass has been sown on the southern side of the runway and early results have been positive.

Peter Robinson, Auckland Airport grounds and wildlife hazards management planner, says staff can see from their twice-daily bird counts that fewer birds are visiting the area where the grass has been planted.

He says continued monitoring will help establish a link between reduced bird numbers and fewer bird strikes.

“It’s a great trial from a scientific perspective because we have such a long history of baseline data. Sowing grass on an active airfield and monitoring it is a big unknown, but I’m expecting really a good result as far as bird strikes go.”