2,700+ Towers Update Lighting Systems, Saving Migratory Birds and Expenses

Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations, 202-888-7472 | jerutter@abcbirds.org
Expert Contact: Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy, 202-888-7490 | sholmer@abcbirds.org

While the number of communications towers with steady-burning lights is decreasing, there are still thousands yet to make this change, which saves both migratory birds (like this Blackpoll Warbler) and money. Photo by John Turner

(Washington, D.C., July 16, 2019) Over the past two years, thousands of communications tower operators have updated their lighting systems by turning off steady-burning (L-810) side-marker lights that attract birds and cause millions to die from collisions each year. (Flashing lights remain atop these towers, ensuring aviation safety.) Since 2016, more than 2,700 of about 13,900 tall towers have made this change, stemming from December 2015 guidelines by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) pertaining to towers over 350 feet in height and their impact on aviation safety and birdlife.

“Every year in the United States, approximately 7 million migratory birds collide with tall communications towers and die,” said Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy's (ABC's) Vice President of Policy. “These birds, namely migratory species such as Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Blackpoll Warblers, are attracted to and disoriented by the steady-burning red lights on towers. Simply turning off the lights can reduce a tower's rate of bird mortality by as much as 70 percent and save the tower operators money.”

Following a 2012 FAA report confirming that turning off the steady-burning lights maintains aviation safety, the FAA and FCC have since created a simple process for tower operators to request and receive official permission to adjust their current lighting systems. Operators are now increasingly taking these steps to reduce electricity and other tower operating costs, as well as to protect migratory birds.

Robert Davis, who works for the city of Savannah, Georgia, commented on the tower lighting change his team embraced eight months ago: “We sought and received approval from the FCC and FAA to turn off our waist (side-burning) lights on our 400-foot radio tower.… The FCC and FAA seemed to be aware of the program and were very cooperative and responsive to our request to discontinue the lights.”

“American Bird Conservancy commends tower operators who have turned off their steady-burning lights,” says Holmer. “Thanks to their individual efforts, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds are now being saved each year as a result.”

ABC will be diligently working this summer to help U.S. tower operators embrace lighting adjustments on the remaining 11,228 towers that have yet to make the change.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

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