Bird Populations Are Rapidly Declining, With 3 Billion Birds In North America Dying Since 1970, But New Research Has Shown The Leading Cause Of Death For Birds Near Power Lines Isn’t Electrocution

whiteaster - - illustrative purposes only, not the actual birds

Birds are dying near power lines, and it’s not for the reason you might think. According to a study from 2019, around three billion birds across North America have died since 1970.

It is considered a monumental decline in bird populations. Climate change, shrinking habitats, unregulated harvest, and other human-related activities were cited as the causes of the population losses.

Included in those human-related activities are pet cats, sliding glass doors, wind turbines, and power lines. As you’ve probably noticed, birds are always perching on power lines.

So, when a dead bird is discovered next to a power line, it is assumed that it has been electrocuted. Electrocution can occur when birds come into contact with two energized sections of a power line at the same time.

However, a new study has found that the leading cause of death for birds near power lines is not electrocution but illegal shootings. Even protected species like eagles, hawks, and ravens are getting hit.

A research associate at Boise State University named Eva Thomason noticed that dead birds were littered along power lines that were supposed to be avian-safe while she was doing an avian risk assessment for a power company.

When she realized that the birds were dying from gunshots, she decided to conduct a study. The research team traveled through Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Oregon, where they surveyed 122 miles of power lines. Between 2019 and 2022, they found a total of 410 dead birds. They were from more than 48 species, with 185 being raptors and 132 corvids.

Out of the 175 birds they were able to identify a cause of death for, 66 percent of them died from shootings. The common raven appeared the most frequently, while the turkey vulture was the rarest, with only one of them among all the dead birds.

In addition, some birds that seemed to have been electrocuted were actually shot. For example, a power company had determined that the death of a bald eagle was electrocution, which made sense because it had singed feathers and wings. After the incident, the power company worked hard to reduce the risk of electrocution at the site.

whiteaster – – illustrative purposes only, not the actual birds

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