In an attempt to save some of the millions of birds that die each year after being bewildered by airport illumination, changes will be made to the US lighting towers that warn approaching pilots.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it will change the lighting on towers across the US after its research found that birds are attracted to steady red lights that highlight obstructions to pilots at night. The FAA said its changes will save thousands of birds each year.
The research found that static red lights attract birds – often in large migratory flocks – which then circle the light repeatedly, often collapsing of exhaustion and dying on the ground. Some birds perish after hitting towers or surrounding wires.
It’s thought that constant red lights disorientate birds far more than blue, white or flashing lights. A 2012 study estimated that 6.8 million birds a year die in the US and Canada due to this confusion – up to four times the amount that are killed by shooting.
The FAA conducted a trial in Michigan to compare different lights and found a large decrease in bird fatalities when flashing lights were deployed. The federal regulator has now instructed all new towers to be fitted with flashing lights, with operators of existing towers required to transition to the new system.
“This looks like a very good step forward and I’m glad to see the FAA is responding to the research,” said Steve Holmer, senior policy adviser at the American Bird Conservancy. “There are lots of mortality events involving lighting on towers, it’s an issue when there are large flocks. Hopefully they won’t be attracted to them as much now.”
In addition to the millions of birds killed due to confusing tower lighting, about 13,000 a year are killed when they hit aircraft in flight. Globally, bird strikes have also resulted in more than 258 people dying from 245 plane crashes since 1988.
Perhaps the most famous bird strike upon a plane occurred in January 2009, when a US Airways flight was safely ditched in New York’s Hudson river, saving the lives on those on board, after Canada geese were ingested in both engines.
Researchers are still looking at ways that bird strikes can be avoided.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 24 Mar 2016.