Communications Towers are Killing Millions of Birds in Canada and US Every Year

by Knowlton Thomas | Research

Communications towers throughout North America are responsible for the deaths of nearly seven million birds per year, according to wildlife authorities. But a study published this week by researchers at Environment Canada and US agencies and universities say these deaths can be greatly reduced.

Towers have continued to be built larger an larger, with some now reaching more than half a kilometre high. And they're held up by several kiolmetres of cable and wire, an avian death trap.

The report recommends that the telco industry change the lighting on taller towers. This alone could cut the death toll in half—saving the lives of at least three million birds annually.

There are now 84,000 of these towers dotting North America, and the death tolls have been rising as a result. In 1979, it was estimated that just one million birds fell victim to the towers. The study pointed out that these towers are now killing significantly more birds than major oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

While the majority of the deaths happen in America, which has far more towers, many of the birds are trying to fly to Canada. Cloudy weather, for example, pushes birds lower and also obscures navigation cues such as stars, a double-whammy that sets the birds up for a tower-inflicted death. 

Simple changes include changing solid lights into blinking lights, an easy fix that would instantly help the birds avoid the cables and wires. Implementing this change on just 4,500 of the tallest towers—only 5% of all towers on the continent—could slash deaths by up to 45% or 2.5 million birds per year. Building free-standing towers (those without guy wires) in the future is also cited as a high priority in the report.

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Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton is the managing editor of Techvibes and author of Tempest Bound. Based in Vancouver, Knowlton has been published in national publications and has also appeared on television and radio. Previously he was an editor for New Westminster weekly The Other Press and served on its board of directors. When not working, Knowlton enjoys hiking, tennis, and martial arts. more

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