Tastes like chicken
The recent article “Crash Course” (Urgent Communications, February 2009) was interesting in dealing with the issue of tower collisions, particularly ideas regarding tower lighting to assist aircraft. However, the article once again dealt with the old fuzzy issue of migratory birds and their purported tendency to bend their beaks on towers.
I have studied this issue with great vigor, including a comprehensive review of every bird on the endangered species list to determine the relative danger of towers on migratory bird populations. I have read a number of reports produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy. My conclusion is that the issue is bunk.
Depopulation of migratory birds occurs primarily for three reasons: (1) loss of habitat; (2) predators that did not previously exist in a given area; and (3) cowbirds. There is no credible scientific data that shows that migratory birds are endangered from tower construction.
This is not to say that birds don’t occasionally run into towers. They do. They also run into bridges, buildings, homes, fences and cliffs. I’ve seen birds bump into my car windshield, run into my house, and even hit a tree while fighting — proving conclusively that we’re talking about birds and not Rhodes Scholars.
So why do environmental groups, and even the U.S. government, get all righteous when it comes to towers? They are an easy target, much easier than say taking on the entire hunting industry, which is supported by a different division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (You can shoot ’em by the millions. You just can’t knock ’em down one guy wire at a time.)
The tower industry is, therefore, pestered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and environmental groups because none have the gumption to note that feral cats kill more birds each year than all the radio towers in America since Marconi sent his first sine wave. If these groups had true convictions regarding bird populations, there would be a bounty on homeless kittens.
The only birds that are being protected in this debate are the chickens. Those are the self-righteous folks who do not have the guts to state the plain truth. Migratory birds are eaten, shot, poisoned, oil-slicked, depopulated, decamped and debated by people who will try to demonize the tower industry. In reality, the true threats to migratory birds rest far outside the tower industry.
On a final note, the article suggests that tower builders might have better luck with zoning if they sited towers “away from popular migratory paths.” Popular migratory paths are often a hundred miles wide and thousands of miles from north to south and change from bird species to bird species. So, if I need coverage in Philadelphia, I should choose a site in Pittsburgh? Now, that’s chickening out.