Birds are an ongoing problem for aircraft- if they happen to get sucked into an engine they can potentially destroy it and if they hit a windscreen with enough force they can break them. Whilst there is little that can be done to stop this whilst flying, the greatest danger is for aircraft taking off and landing. Not only are birds more likely to be encountered at lower altitudes and on the ground, but there is less altitude for a pilot to correct any malfunction they might cause and not enough height for him to safely eject. With all this in mind, most airfields employ systems to scare birds away and one of the commonest is by making loud bangs with blank shotgun cartridges. Although replaced in many instances by ultrasonic systems now, smaller airfields still use these bird scarers and the RAF made extensive use of them until recently. The blank shotgun cartridges needed to be treated like any other item of ammunition and so were stored in metal ammunition boxes, marked up for the purpose, and it is one of these we are looking at today:
The box itself is a standard British army example, as used for GPMG ammunition etc. and we have covered these on the blog before so it is the markings we are concerning ourselves with today. The majority of the markings are stenciled on one side of the box:
These indicate that the box held 88x 12 Bore bird scaring cartridges and these were packaged in June 1986. An NSN number is also included for stores purposes.
Further markings can be seen on the end of the box:
From the end we can see that the packaged weight of the box and ammunition is 4kg and the NSN number can be seen repeated beneath this.
The markings continue on the top:
Interestingly here they are referred to as ‘cartridges signal’- whether these are the same as the contents stenciled on the side, or an earlier marking that wasn’t obliterated before the box held bird scaring cartridges is unclear.
Finally there are some white stencils on the bottom of the box. Again, I suspect these are earlier and may refer to a previous use for this ammunition box:
It has been discovered that the birds quickly become desensitized to the sound of shotgun cartridges and birds of prey are now used as a deterrant:
The goal, he said, is mainly to frighten the flocks of rooks, gulls, sparrows and other species attracted to the flat, open runway area, not to slaughter them wholesale. Most of the flying done by Mutton’s birds, especially the smaller falcons, is mainly for intimidation, he said, though all his birds do get practice occasionally hunting prey.
The tactic is effective, he said, because nuisance birds can become desensitized to many conventional deterrence methods, such as sirens, pyrotechnics, amplified distress calls and decoys — methods Mutton also occasionally employs.
But the silhouette of a peregrine on the wing never fails to induce panic, he said.
“The one thing that the birds can’t get used to is these,” he said, motioning to his falcons. “One bird is enough to clear 4,000, 5,000 birds out of here.”
The effect was evident on a recent sunny Sunday at RAF Lakenheath. While shotgun blasts from the neighboring gun club crackled across the landing strip, thousands of birds collected around the runway, heedless of the noise.
But when Mutton fired up the blue van and crept toward the airstrip — without even taking a falcon out of the back — the mere approach of the vehicle sent the flocks squawking for the trees.
I’ve seen several aircraft severely damaged and others lost due to bird strikes
It’s a nasty job cleaning the remains of dead birds from inside an A/C and at the speed they’re often encountered at, they can penetrate for a surprising distance, even through the thickest panels.
In the 70’s, I was responsible for the care and maintenance of the shotguns, ammunition and other pyrotechnic ordnance used by ATC for bird control.
we used to organize informal shooting parties when the birds got too thick around the runways
After a few hours of firing actual shot, they tended to pay more attention to the noisemakers for awhile.
Which was all the better since you didn’t have to shut down operations for a live shoot or collect dead birds from the tarmac
We also used cartridges for the 1 1/2″ signal pistols that made a loud report and a puff of brown smoke
These, and the 12 ga ‘bore thunder’ cartridges are still used in the north ostensibly for scaring polar bears but by some accounts it just attracts others to the area since there must be something there worth protecting 😉
SSG, on the other hand, makes for a more lasting deterrent.