Surfin' Birds

Well, if I had to ditch in the nearby ocean, they’d be surfin’.I took my Cirrus down to the shop to get the AD and a few SBs taken care of, and noticed a “funny smell” which came and went quickly. I paid a bit more attention, kept all those strawberry and artichoke fields in sight, and finished the 10 minute flight without incident. When they opened up the cowling, they found a large bird’s nest packed in on the right side of the engine, on top of the cylinders (at least it was on the intake side and not the exhaust side…) This, along with the big article in this month’s Aviation Safety on in-flight fires, gave me pause and I resolved to do my preflights more carefully from then on. Given that I’ve parked two different planes on the same ramp for five years now, and have never seen a nest in the cowling, I figured it was a fluke. (Cue the ominous music…)So I bring it back to the home field, and three days later I went out to do an IPC. This time I peeked sideways through the oil door and saw…another nest. Grr. Pulled top and bottom cowlings, and with the aid of a vacuum cleaner and a bent piece of wire managed to get most of it out, in only two hours’ time. The birds had really wedged grass and twigs down between the cylinders, and the area is not very accessable (between the intake manifold, fuel spider, and hoses on the top, and baffling on the bottom.) By the time we got it cleaned out there wasn’t enough time to do the IPC, so we had fun doing a few tight, power-off, fly-like-a-manhole landings and parked it. I stuffed a whole bunch of shop towels into the cowling and went home and ordered a set of cowl plugs.So we decided to try again today. 24 hours later, and sure enough the bird had found some path past my shop towels (they appeared undisturbed) and pulled an incredible amount of very dry plant material into the same spot. This time it only took 75 minutes to clean it out (we have gotten good at the process) and I did manage to complete my IPC. This time I stuffed some old bath towels into the cowl openings and I hope that there’s no space to wiggle through.So…it’s springtime out there (at least in these climes) and the birds are nesting, and it will really ruin your day if there’s a bale of straw under your cowling that catches fire. Take a close look inside, and be careful up there!

All those planes on the ramp and they chose yours three times. I guess they haven’t heard about all the instrument and CAPS failures. Or maybe they just don’t think they’re as big a deal as some on this forum do. If they trust there unborn children with an unreliable CAPS, it is good enough for me.

Dave, it’s amazing the things birds do to different people, for me they sing!

p.s. - I signed the order on the 22 today.

Which cowl plugs did you order?

In the category of “dumb things I’ve done in my flying career” there’s the time my wife and I departed FRG for DPA in a V35. This was in the mid 70’s. The plane had been parked at FRG for 2 days. An uneventful (and obviously not careful enough) preflight was done and we blasted off. There was a terrible smell in the cockpit but as we picked up speed and altitude the smell disappeared and I ascribed it to some sort of atmospheric pollution (amazing how the mind rationalizes). We stopped for fuel in FWA and on departing from that airport we again had that awful smell. It clearly couldn’t have been New York pollution in the middle of Indiana. This time I landed and we opened the cowl. Nestled in the back of the engine comparment was a very large nest. After cleaning it out all was well. Luckily no harm was done and there was no fire (I’ve had an inflight fire too but that’s another story). In retrospect a tipoff was the large amount of bird droppings on the back of the prop.
Moral of the story? One, always check for nests if the plane is outside and two, if something smells bad it probably is. Land and investigate.

I’ll be surprised if they have any unborn children (and if they do, whether they have all of their feathers attached.) The first time around they ate the air filter, which seems to be impregnated with something that is unlikely to be healthful.

They definitely like to return to the scene of the crime. Once I was cleaning a proto-nest out of a Katana’s tail for the 2nd day in a row, and I heard an angry twittering behind me. Up on the hanger was an impatient bird, waiting for me to finish so he could get back to work!


PS The cowl plugs just cover where the air goes in. Can the birds be going in through the outlet (more evidence of their ignorance of basic engineering!)

In reply to:

Once I was cleaning a proto-nest out of a Katana’s tail for the 2nd day in a row…


Since it was a Katana, a smart bird would just wait for you to take off, fly up from behind, climb into the tail-cone, and resume nest-building. [;)]

[Just kidding… great plane… just not the speediest. Doubt you’d actually GET bird-strikes from the rear!]

  • Mike.

There was evidence that they were getting in the front (lots of detritus in the baffling.) I need to study the air flow a bit, but I don’t think there is a clear path from the other direction–I believe all the air is forced across the cylinder fins from top to bottom and ends up in the somewhat cavernous space below the engine, exiting around the exhaust pipes. There seems to be almost no way to get in from the bottom, unless you’re closer to the size of an air molecule.

(The nests were built on top of the cylinders.)

I wonder if they’d follow the plane around if I switched tiedowns? They could be nesting in the propellerless wreck of a 172 next to mine, but nooooo… Guess they have good taste or something.

I ordered the cowl plugs from Bruce. I also ordered a prop cover; at other times, birds have obviously enjoyed perching on the vertical prop tip, leaving…calling cards on the spinner.