Joelle Gehring, PhD, a biologist for the FCC, works with communications tower operators to minimize bird collisions with towers, which are so serious that they are posing risks to endangered migratory birds. Dr Gehring noted that current estimates are that “6.8 million birds … collide with U.S. and Canadian communication towers during migration.
Joelle described the development of her research aimed at identifying what features of communications towers are leading to so many birds colliding with and being killed by collisions with these towers. The title of her talk was ‘Reducing Avian Collisions with Communications Towers: From Research to Implementation’. Living in Michigan, and studying wildlife ecology at Purdue University, she latched onto the problem of bird deaths being caused by them colliding with the towers. Her study looked systematically at such factors as the weather, the location of towers in the surrounding landscape, the tower support system (guide wires), the heights of the towers, and the tower lighting systems. Height makes a difference with broadcast towers being among the tallest and projecting into the flight paths of migratory birds. But whether the towers had lights that were constantly on or blinking turned out to be a surprising and important finding. Simply by ensuring that towers switched to blinking, flashing lights, created a far more bird friendly lighting system – saving tens of thousands of birds over time.
Dr Gehring’s research is one of the best examples of a clear and insightful project having major policy implications. Hers is research with a clear and major impact on migratory birds.