Birds and airplanes collide more than 10,000 times each year, according to reports to the Federal Aviation Administration. In fact, it was a flock of geese that caused the emergency forced water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009, aka "the miracle on the Hudson." While bird strikes rarely cause catastrophic accidents, it does happen and the airline industry has struggled with the risk for decades. To better test commercial planes and engines' resilience against bird strikes, Canada's Aerospace Research Centre worked with military and industry collaborators to build a bird cannon that fires dead chickens at airplanes on the ground in test situations.
The first chicken cannon was deployed in 1968 and they've been finessing the design ever since. The largest machine in the arsenal is the Super Cannon with a 17.25 inch barrel. From CNN:
One test targets aircraft structural components like windshields, wing and tail sections, and the other test fires a bird into an operating engine[…]
"The first part is the calibration of the gun, to be sure that we are firing the bird at the required speed," explained NRC senior research officer Azzedine Dadouche in an interview with CNN Travel.
"To do the calibration test, we can use gelatin-based birds, or we can use chickens that we buy at the grocery store. Once we are in the range, we use real birds to finalize the calibration, and of course we use real birds to do the certification test. The birds — always dead ones only — go into the cannon with the feathers, the head, legs, everything."
According to Dadouche, the NRC acquires dead bird carcasses from poultry farms, and from companies that have access to the needed birds and have to dispose of them.
"We get those birds from specialized companies that use birds of prey to scare away birds from the airport area. Sometimes the small birds get killed."