MORTALITY THREATS TO BIRDS- COMMUNICATIONS TOWERS
December 30, 2008 3:10:21 PM
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that between five and 50million birds are killed in the U.S. each year after being attracted by the lightson communication towers and colliding with the tower’s structure or guy wiresduring night migration. Most incidents happen in poor weather with low cloudduring the spring or fall. In at least one instance, several thousand birds werekilled at a single tower in one night. At least 231 species have been affected,with neo-tropical migrants making up a large proportion of all species killed.Approximately 80,000 communication towers in the U.S. are requiredby the Federal CommunicationsCommission to be lit, either because theyare more than 199 feet tall, are in theimmediate vicinity of an airport, or aresituated along a major highway. More than7,000 new towers are being constructedeach year to meet the demand for cellular telephone and digital television networks,and this is expected to continue increasing in the foreseeable future.Despite the level of bird mortality associated with towers, it is likely impossible to provethat these deaths are affecting overall bird populations given the range of other threats operatingconcurrently. Many of the species affected are abundant and have reproductive ecology designedto cope with high rates of mortality, especially among juvenile birds. However, more than 50 of the species recorded in tower kills are of conservation concern, and any additional mortality mustbe considered a potentially serious threat to these species. The Tennessee warbler, a species of significant conservation concern is among the most commonly killed at towers. Despite aconcerted campaign by conservation groups to encourage tower construction and communicationcompanies to take the threat to birds seriously, and help fund research on lighting regimes tominimize tower impacts, progress has been slow.Conservationists have now resorted to legal means to resolve theproblem including opposing specific proposed tower constructionprojects, and requesting a system-wide Environmental ImpactStatement on all towers.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have issued
for tower construction aimed at minimizing birdkills. These guidelines include: co-locating new antennae on existingtowers; keeping towers below 199 feet; siting towers within existing
Northern Harrier killed on the guy wires of acommunicationstower. Photo:Hugh Kingery Towers. Photo: MikeParr