German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)



Private aircraft. Photo: K. Wollny-Goerke
Private aircraft. Photo: K. Wollny-Goerke

Aviation can pose a danger to birds on the open seas, most of all when aircraft fly below the statutory minimum altitude of 600 metres. This mainly occurs during military low-flying manoeuvres, when jet fighters and helicopters keep close to the water surface. Private planes and non-military helicopters have also been known to fly below the minimum altitude.

Disturbance from aviation

Depending on altitude and the species encountered, aircraft can cause disturbance to sea birds in various ways: Scaring, with birds taking flight and in some cases avoiding specific areas, stress, and the resultant loss of much-needed rest can cause lasting harm. Bird strikes can also lead to accidents.

Sea Lynx helicopter on UNIFIL mission, with another helicopter and a speedboat in the background. Photo: Bundeswehr
Sea Lynx helicopter on UNIFIL mission, with another helicopter and a speedboat in the background. Photo: Bundeswehr

ABAs as protection for birds

BfN and the German Aero Club (DAeC) chair an Aviation and Nature Conservation working group, which has joined forces with bird wardens in the German Länder to draw up a list of Aircraft-relevant Bird Areas (ABAs) based on standard criteria. ABAs are areas where large numbers of birds are found at resting and migration times and areas that host (large) bird species particularly vulnerable to disturbance. The areas are shown in the ICAO Germany air map published by Deutsche Flugsicherung, the German air traffic control authority.

The list is restricted to areas where large bird species vulnerable to disturbance by aircraft – such as great bustard, crane, geese, waders, waterbirds and grouse – are found in numbers of regional, national or European significance. Areas are included, for example, that serve as resting sites for over 10,000 waders and waterbirds or over 1,000 cranes or where the number of resting or roosting individuals is at least one percent of the biogeographic population of a species.

To protect the birds, it is recommended that aircraft observe the 600 m minimum altitude in ABAs or fly around them.

ABAs in coastal waters

Numerous areas have already been successfully designated as ABAs in German coastal waters. In the North Sea these include the Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony Wadden Sea, the Heligoland SPA and the East Frisian Sea. In the Baltic Sea, the Schleswig-Holstein coast, the Darss-Zingst Bodden Chain, Wismar Bay, Greifswald Bodden, and the West and North Rügen Bodden are marked as ABAs in civil aeronautical charts.

ABAs in the EEZ

The only ABA so far designated in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea EEZ is the Pomeranian Bay SPA in the Baltic Sea (ABA ID 064). The area is designated to protect mainly resting sea ducks, but also other groups of sea birds such as grebes. Many of these birds use the area as a wintering site. During winter, when food is fairly scarce, birds need to use as little energy as possible and must not be disturbed or driven away. Sea birds also need undisturbed resting sites during migration periods to rebuild their food reserves and so as not to put at risk their onward flight to breeding and wintering areas. Some sea ducks such as common and velvet scoter also come to the Pomeranian Bay to moult, a time when they are unable to fly and are particularly susceptible to stress.

A full list of ABAs, their location and a brief characterisation of each area is available at (only in German)