Numerous species of birds are known to collide with power lines causing millions of deaths worldwide. Every year, nearly 1 million Sandhill cranes and millions of other large-bodied birds migrate through central Nebraska and many of these birds use the Platte River valley as a migratory stopover site. Along the central Platte River, power line collisions have been identified as a threat to numerous species of large-bodied birds including Sandhill cranes, the endangered whooping cranes, pelicans, Canada geese, and snow geese. At Rowe Sanctuary, which supports one of the highest densities of Sandhill cranes in the central Platte River valley, attempts to reduce deaths from such collisions have included placing glow-in-the-dark power line markers on the wires to increase their visibility. Unfortunately, hundreds of collisions and deaths still occur because most collisions occur at night when these power line markers are least visible to birds.
While high-voltage power lines can be buried, it would cost several millions of dollars to bury the power lines under the Platte River at Rowe Sanctuary. However, the Crane Trust, Rowe Sanctuary, and EDM International Incorporated tested the effectiveness of an experimental “Avian Collision Avoidance System” that used UV light, which is barely visible to humans, to illuminate the high-voltage power lines crossing the Platte River near Rowe Sanctuary. We monitored the power lines from 1 hour before sunset until 4.5 hours after sunset for 40 nights when the Avian Collision Avoidance Systems were either on of off.
We found the Avian Collision Avoidance Systems were highly effective at reducing collisions with the power lines on Rowe Sanctuary. We saw nearly 9 nighttime collisions per week when the Avian Collision Avoidance Systems were off and only 1 nighttime collision per week when they were on and fully functional. In addition to reducing power line collisions by over 88%, we saw birds moving to avoid the power lines much sooner when the Avian Collision Avoidance Systems were on than when they were off indicating the power lines were more visible with the UV light. We believe that installing Avian Collision Avoidance Systems on high-risk spans of power lines such as those at Rowe Sanctuary, and perhaps on other man-made structures like guy wires, cellular towers, and wind turbines where birds also collide, may offer an effective and affordable long-term solution to this long-standing conservation concern.