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Illegal Shooting a More Likely Cause For Bird Deaths Around Power Lines Than Electrocution

Hawks on power line

Power lines are a historic threat to birds. Understanding why that is is intuitive. Birds of all kinds are often found perching on power poles or on the lines themselves. One misstep while perched amongst high voltage lines can easily result in deadly electrical injuries. Instances of electrocution of birds by power lines can also be responsible for outages.

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That’s why power companies tend to pay attention to bird activity surrounding power lines. In fact, many companies dedicate time and energy to recording bird deaths surrounding power lines and providing safety measures to prevent them when possible. Safe perches to entice birds away from more dangerous areas and insulation to prevent injury, are two of the common measures taken by power line owners to prevent bird deaths and the damage that may result from bird deaths.

When a bird is found dead near a power line, it stands to reason that it has been electrocuted, but a recent study is calling that into question. With all of the safety measures in place, researchers from Boise State University’s Raptor Research Center set out to determine why so many birds were still being found dead along power lines. the cause of many of these deaths is unexpected and disturbing.

The research team spent four years collecting dead birds from alongside power lines in four states. The 410 deceased birds that they recovered were determined to mostly belong to federally protected species. Among them were many birds of prey including Bald Eagles. Of the 410 birds found, X-rays determined that 66% had been shot.

The study’s findings suggest that the illegal shooting of birds, either in misguided attempts to protect livestock or for “fun,” may represent a much larger swathe of unexplained bird deaths than previously thought. The shooting of federally protected birds is, obviously, a crime, however it is difficult to enforce and made more difficult by the fact that many of these birds collide with power lines after being shot, making their deaths look like accidents.

Why anyone would needlessly shoot a federally protected raptor, I cannot say. What we do know is that for shootings to make up 66% of these deaths indicates that this problem is likely far more widespread than anyone realized. I am hopeful that uncovering this problem may be a big step in the direction of solving it. Researchers state that the information they uncovered will hopefully contribute to law enforcement investigations dedicated to enforcing federal protections.

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