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April 2008
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A Bird Killer Towers Ominously
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, NM & SW US, Florida & SE US
Posted by: Ken @ 11:16 am

A Bird Killer Towers Ominously

 Over Our Lake

View to the east from our patio at sunrise, April 12. The communications tower is under construction on the horizon to the right.

At the top of our “wish list” when we started planning for a home in retirement was that we might be near our children, followed by a house with a view. No need to explain the first requirement, but after 25 years of living in flat country we wanted to be able to focus our eyes on something beyond the back fence. Our home site in New Mexico fit our specifications, and we looked out on the expansive eastern slope of Sandia Mountains. We built our home within a four to five hour drive of two of our children and their families, a daughter in Arizona and a son in Texas. We enjoyed living there for over ten years. Then, smitten by wanderlust, we decided it was time to downsize and move to be nearer to our other daughter and her family, in Florida.

One’s eyes are completely relaxed when focused upon a distant object. The relaxation can spread to the entire body. There are no mountains in Florida, but an expanse of water has a similar effect, so we settled on the shore of a small lake. The good news was that the house was only two miles away from our daughter’s family, which now included two baby granddughters. The bad news was that her husband got a big promotion to a position in Chicago before the moving van had even departed from New Mexico!

Still, we do enjoy the climate and do our best to see the rest of the family, particularly during the third season (we have Hot, Hotter and Hurricane). There is shopping nearby and nice paved paths for walking, plus our “patch” of recovering Everglades only a quarter mile from our house.

On this morning’s walk, we checked on the progress of the construction of a communications tower that is going up. About a mile to our east, and about 150 feet high, it already casts its reflection on our lake, and promises to loom much higher. As birders, we have additional cause for some concern.

Among the links below is a video on Bird Cinema with some sobering footage of migrating birds that were killed by communications towers. Attracted to their lights, the birds may become confused and circle aimlessly, and often be injured or killed by crashing into the structures.

According to the New Jersey Audubon Society:

“The problem is caused by the lights on the towers for aviation warning. On nights with a low ceiling, birds lose their cues for stellar and geomagnetic navigation. The light reflecting off water molecules in the air causes an illumined area, creating a whirlpool of birds circling the tower in the light space. Bill Evans of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology ventured the estimate cited above, of 2 to 4 million bird kills a year at towers, and there is a growing bibliography of documented North American tower kills of birds…”

The Federal Communications Commission has ordered some changes that should reduce bird mortality. In a February, 2008 decision that only affects towers along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, the US Court of Appeals in D.C. now requires the FCC to study the effects of communications towers on migratory birds, and provide prior public notice of new tower applications. The FCC does not perform an environmental impact assessment or consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and gives no public notice until after a tower has already been approved. An article in the Los Angeles Times states, that under the court order, “FCC must weigh new towers’ risk to birds:”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that millions of warblers, thrushes and other birds die each year because continuously burning lights atop those towers can disorient them in bad weather.

“The 2-1 decision affects only towers along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, a major route for migrating birds.

“But environmentalists hope the ruling will spur the FCC to approve proposed rules that would mandate white strobe lights on new towers nationwide. Studies have shown that those lights aren’t as disorienting to birds and could cut deaths by 70%…”

We are sure “our” tower is not covered by the order, for it was already under construction when the court issued its ruling. We cannot find any specific reference to this particular tower on the Web or in news articles.Of course, communication towers are a necessity in this day and age. We can only watch and worry, but it is reassuring that the FCC may now be taking some steps to reduce bird kills.


Save Our Boreal Birds The Boreal Forest is a vitally important breeding
ground that supports more than half of the North American populations
of over 100 bird species, and it is steadily being carved up by
unchecked development.
The BirdFreak A sad goodbye to “Max,” and some beautiful Common Loon photos
BirdChaser BirdChaser interviews Howard Cosell on the Sport of Birding!
Hawk Owls Nest Patrick has suggestions for National Wildlife Week activities

Birds, Etcetera In a reflective mood, John Trapp looks back a year and recalls a blog on Warbler Politics: How Birds Made Two Presidents!
Illinois Birders Forum I’m watching this site closely– when the snow melts we will be birding at our second home in Chicagoland
Children and Nature April is Nature Awareness Month
Bird Cinema FCC orders measures to reduce communication tower danger to migrating birds
Birding in Maine Great birding notes and photos from “Way Down East”
Kayak Paddle Tales Peggy paddles Cedar Key, Florida and photographs spoonbills
Born Again Birdwatcher John updates the schedule of BirdNote Podcasts

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