U.S. Considers Bird-Friendly Communications Towers
WASHINGTON The Federal Communications Commission drew praise from a wildlife conservation group Monday for considering a plan to make communications towers less deadly for migrating birds.
The current lighting and support wires on some towers that carry broadcast and mobile phone signals kill up to 50 million migratory birds a year in the United States, said Darin Schroeder of the American Bird Conservancy.
"The birds that are being killed aren't just your common sparrows," Schroeder said by telephone, after the FCC agreed to seek comment on the tower plan. "These are Baltimore Orioles and Cerulean Warblers, birds that we really need to actively protect.
"If we can find a solution, as simple as changing the lights on a tower, I think everyone wants to see that happen," he said. "We're hopeful that a rule will be developed."
The commission agreed on Friday to seek comment on how much communications towers affect migrating birds and various issues related to ways to keep birds from crashing into them. It was unclear how quickly the commission might act.
"The FCC can work very rapidly, as it did in the Janet Jackson case," Schroeder said, referring to the singer's televised bare breast at the Super Bowl in February 2004. Fines were proposed in September of that year against some stations that aired the broadcast.
"On this issue, it has taken a number of years," he said. "We're hoping that this will be done really soon."
The American Bird Conservancy, Forest Conservation Council and Friends of the Earth filed suit against the commission in 2002, charging that fewer birds would be killed if the FCC would mandate safety measures for communications towers.
These include: putting antennas on existing structures rather than building new ones; building towers less than 200 feet tall to avoid the requirement that they be lighted so aircraft can see them; using red or white strobe lights on towers over 200 feet instead of solid state or slow pulsing lights; avoiding the use of guy-wires, which extend at an angle from the ground to support the towers.
Most bird kills involving communications towers occur during fall and spring when night-migrating birds are attracted to the aviation safety lights on the towers, the conservancy said in a statement.
Red solid-state or slow pulsing lights interfere with the birds' celestial navigation cues, especially when it is rainy or foggy, and so the birds keep circling the towers, crashing into one another, or the tower or its guy-wires or the ground. Some simply drop from exhaustion, the conservancy said.
A report by the conservancy analyzing documented kills found 230 species -- over one-third of all bird species found in the United States -- known to be killed by towers.