Sunday, May 3, 2009


So far this year I have dealt with two bird's nests. The first was while we were still rebuilding the seaplane at Bibb Co. Airport. A bird built a nest in one of my wings while it was still dissassembled and waiting for paint. The latest one was last weekend. The plane was out of the water, on the trailer overnight after some work being done.

Birds built a nest inside the engine compartment. This one was only noticed becase I saw a little bit of pine straw on the spreader bar under the engine. Being curious and a good preflighter, I reached up into the engine compartment where the nose wheel would normally protrude, were it not a seaplane, to find much more pine straw. The bird had built a nest on top of my air intake box. I cleaned all of this out. I caught it early so there were no eggs or birdies harmed in this endeavour.

Last summer, I found a nest only after flying for a bit and noticing high oil temps. This nest was behind the back cylinder on the left side of the plane between the cylinder and the oil cooler (see above pic). Unfortunately these eggs were cooked by the time I found the nest. This nest was not visible except maybe for one strand of pine straw poking up beyond the back cylinder. My plane gives a pretty good view of the top of the engine from the front. Many planes give a very poor view into the engine.

I do use cowl plugs just to be extra vigilant this time of year, and I thought I was pretty safe. The birds are actively nesting and airplane orifices make a pretty inviting spot. They are elevated off the ground, which keeps ground critters away from eggs, have plenty of bird friendly openings, and they provide protection from the elements.

So what are the dangers of bird's nests? There is the obvious fire danger from the pine straw igniting from a hot engine. There is engine damage because air cooled engines don’t get cooled when a birds nest insulates them and blocks the air. Finally there is the corrosion issue from caustic bird droppings on our precious aluminum.

What to do? If you see anything unusual around, on, or under your plane, investigate it further. The time to find a bird's nest is not when you are on fire or doing damage to an expensive engine. If you find something, clean it out thoroughly, so that any blockages are removed and any corrosion is stopped early or never started. Use cowl plugs to reduce the risk. Cowl plugs also require removal before running an engine. There have been many engines ruined by leaving the cowl plugs in and overheating. So go out and enjoy the spring and all the new life that it brings, but do your part to keep that new life out of your engine compartment.

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