Communication towers, lights, and birds: successful methods of reducing the frequency of avian collisions


  • Corresponding Editor: R. L. Knight.


Estimates suggest that each year millions of birds, predominantly Neotropical migrating songbirds, collide with communication towers. To determine the relative collision risks that different nighttime Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) communication tower obstruction lighting systems pose to night-migrating birds, we compared fatalities at towers with different systems: white strobe lights only; red strobe-like lights only; red, flashing, incandescent lights only; and red, strobe-like lights combined with non-flashing, steady-burning, red lights. Avian fatality data used to compare these tower light systems were collected simultaneously in Michigan on 20 consecutive days during early morning hours during peak songbird migration at 24 towers in May and September 2005 (total = 40 days). Twenty-one towers were 116–146 m above ground level (AGL), and three were ≥305 m AGL. During the two 20-day sample periods, we found a mean of 3.7 birds under 116–146 m AGL towers equipped with only red or white flashing obstruction lights, whereas towers with non-flashing/steady-burning lights in addition to the flashing lights were responsible for 13.0 fatalities per season. Kruskal-Wallis test, ANOVA, Student's t test, and multiple comparisons procedures determined that towers lit at night with only flashing lights were involved in significantly fewer avian fatalities than towers lit with systems that included the FAA “status quo” lighting system (i.e., a combination of red, flashing lights and red, non-flashing lights). There were no significant differences in fatality rates among towers lit with red strobes, white strobes, and red, incandescent, flashing lights. Results from related studies at the same towers in May and September 2004 and September 2003 provide ancillary support for these findings. Our results suggest that avian fatalities can be reduced, perhaps by 50–71%, at guyed communication towers by removing non-flashing/steady-burning red lights. Our lighting change proposal can be accomplished at minimal cost on existing towers, and such changes on new or existing towers greatly reduce the cost of tower operation. Removing non-flashing lights from towers is one of the most effective and economically feasible means of achieving a significant reduction in avian fatalities at existing communication towers.