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New guidelines for communication towers mean energy saved, birds protected

Communication towers disorient flying birds.
Steady red or white lights on communication towers disorient birds at night. Photo courtesy of Federal Communications Commission.

New lighting guidelines for communication towers spell out how operators can save birds and energy without sacrificing safety.

Put in place by the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration, the guidelines strongly encourage operators to turn off or reprogram steady-burning red or white lights in favor of flashing lights, which are less harmful to birds yet still alert pilots to the towers’ presence.

Blackpoll Warbler collides with communication towers.
Blackpoll Warbler at High Island, Texas, April 23, 2011, by Lora Render.

As of late October, operators of more than 750 tall towers nationwide had already updated their lighting under the new guidelines. Making the switch saves energy, reduces operating costs, and reduces bird collisions substantially.

Steady red or white lights on communication towers attract or disorient migratory birds flying at night. As many as seven million birds a year die in collisions with towers and the guy wires that support them.

“By extinguishing the non-flashing lights on towers, we can reduce nighttime bird-fatality rates by as much as 70 percent,” said Christine Sheppard, collisions-campaign manager for American Bird Conservancy.


“We wish to thank the operators of the 700-plus towers who have already switched their lighting to help reduce mortality of birds,” Sheppard said. “But there are still some 15,000 tall towers across the U.S. with outdated lights that are dangerous for birds. We are asking all tower operators to make this cost-saving and life-saving switch to help migratory birds.”

The new guidelines explain how owners of towers taller than 350 feet above ground level and built before 2015 can end the use of non-flashing lights. The FCC and FAA are expected to release specifications for flashing lights on towers 150-350 feet above ground level soon.

The FAA is calling on owners to eliminate the use of non-flashing lights on all towers. “New tower-lighting schemes should now follow the revised guidance, and operators of towers with the old lighting system should submit plans explaining how and when they will transition to the new standards,” the agency said in a news release. — American Bird Conservancy (ABC)


Opportunities to Reduce Bird Collisions with Communications Towers While Reducing Tower Lighting Costs (FCC, December 22, 2015) PDF.

Get more information from ABC about communication towers and birds.

Read more about ABC’s Bird Collisions Campaign.



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