The Trouble with Towers
A Guide to Bird Collisions at
on the second
May, is an
web - http://birds.fws.gov/imbd
phone - 703 /358-2318
web - http://www.BirdDay.org
phone - 1-866/334-3330
Communication towers are everywhere
around us, in our cities and suburbs, along
our highways, and along our countryside.
They are used for broadcast purposes (TV,
radio, police, fire and ambulance) and for
wireless (cellular) communication (your
cell phone or pager). Although the towers
serve an important role in our technologi-cal
society, they also pose a deadly threat
to migratory birds.
Some facts about communication towers
They include any structure intended to
support communication antennas for
wireless or broadcast purposes.
The number of communication towers is
increasing at an exponential rate: there
were 69,000 registered towers reported in
February 2000, compared with over 138,000
reported in 2002. The number of registered
towers is estimated to be 35% lower than
the actual numbers of existing towers
because many towers are either not
reported by, or even registered with the
Federal Communications Commission.
There are several risks factors of communi-cation
towers for migrating birds
Height. Tall towers appear to be much
more dangerous, especially those guyed
towers over 1,000 feet.
Lighting. Any tower over 199 feet tall must
be lit to prevent airplanes from hitting it;
at night, or in bad weather birds are
attracted to the lights of towers and are
reluctant to leave a lighted area. Some
research suggests that solid red lights are
the most dangerous, whereas white strobe
lights may be a safer alternative.
Types of towers
monopole: single-pole, free standing, solid round structure; often less than 200 feet tall;
these are usually used in cities and urban areas because they take up the least amount of
self-supported: multiple-column, lattice structure, reinforced by crossbeams; frequently
less than 400 feet tall.
guyed: single-column structure, anchored with guy wires or cables; tend to be more than
400 feet tall; these take up the most amount of space, but are generally the least expen-sive
type of tower to build.
Guy Wires. These cables, which help to
support very tall towers, are difficult for
birds to see, especially at night or in bad
weather when towers are lit. Birds circling
a tower can easily collide with the wires
and be injured or killed by the impact.
Weather. Low visibility (caused by fog, low
clouds, and precipitation) makes lights
more attractive for birds, and makes
towers and cables more difficult to see.
Birds observed circling lighted towers in
bad weather actually left the towers and
continued on their migrations once weather
conditions and visibility improved.
Siting. The location of new towers is
important. Towers located in/near wet-lands,
coastlines or pathways of migration
appear to be the most dangerous for birds.
Several suggestions have been made for
increasing the safety of towers for birds:
Support collocation by encouraging
companies to install antennae on a single
tower shared with another company, or on
another preexisting structure such as a
water tower. This would reduce the
number of towers that are being built.
Consider lighting. Keep towers unlit if
less than 200 feet in height; choose lights
which are less attractive to migrating
birds, such as minimum intensity strobes.
Do not use solid or pulsating red incandes-cent
lights on towers.
Choose safer locations when building new
towers. Their placement is crucial in areas
that would be especially dangerous for
birds, such as coastlines or along the
routes they use for migration. Weather
should be taken into account as well, and
new towers should not be built in areas
where clouds tend to hang low in the sky on
a regular basis, especially during nighttime
Websites with more information
(website dedicated to studying impacts of
towers on birds; includes map of towers in
USA and has many helpful links for more
(transcripts of August 1999 workshop on
birds and mortality; very interesting panel
discussion of all issues involved)
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.