By Cailey Rizzo
February 22, 2019
Airport Runway
Credit: Steve Proehl/Getty Images

Scientists from France are trying to stop birds from running into planes with optical illusions.

Raptors — birds of prey including eagles, falcons and hawks — have incredible eyesight and can spot small creatures (like mice or other prey) from incredible distances. But according to a study from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the University of Rennes in France, they may also “fail to detect some substrates (e.g. glass windows) or detect approaching objects (e.g. aircraft) too late.”

In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that bird strikes have caused 276 human deaths and destroyed 108 aircraft since 1988, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Now, knowing what they do about the birds’ eyesight, scientists have developed a sort of optical illusion to deter raptors from areas where aircraft take off and land, according to Gizmodo.

Essentially, a pair of what looks like googly eyes appears on a screen and slowly grow larger. When raptors see this visual stimulation they believe another bird is coming at them and they will move out of the way of harm.

Researchers called this effect a superstimulus as “animals show greater responsiveness to an exaggerated stimulus than to the natural stimulus.” So the birds will move out of the way of these fake eyes in a way that they wouldn’t necessarily attempt to avoid an oncoming plane.

At Lourdes-Tarbes-Pyrénées Airport, researchers installed screens with the “googly eyes” and tested their idea. According to Gizmodo, the project worked extremely well, with scientists “noticing dramatic drops in the population of birds within eyesight of the LED screens.” And, after five weeks, it appeared the birds never seemed to grow accustomed to the eyes.

Though scientists are excited by the finding, this is not a conclusive study. Researchers will need to continue testing the screens at other airports with other types of birds before considering it a success.

This is not the first attempt to save birds from oncoming planes. Last year, it was thought that a combination of red and blue lights could help lead birds away from areas where aircraft were taking off and landing, but, according to Futurity, “that probably isn’t an effective approach.”