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Birds are Getting Electrocuted and Shot on Power Lines

By: Kayla Feng

When people see dead avians under a power line, they assume they were electrocuted by a power line. But that may not be the whole story. Two-thirds of dead birds found under power lines in the western US were shot, according to a survey of five sites in four states.

“We really need X-rays to understand fully what may have happened,” said Eve Thomason, a former employee for a utility researching power lines to find how they threatened birds.

For their new study, Eve Thomason and her colleagues walked along 122 miles of power lines in Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. They collected 410 dead bird bodies.

The researchers X-rayed the birds, looking for shot wounds or other death causes.

“Most of them were coming back with bullet fragments in them or shotgun pellets,” Eve said. 66% of the 175 birds they determined the death causes were shot.

Most of the birds shot were ravens or raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons, etc.) Killing these birds is illegal. And all shootings threaten birds. Raptors are already somewhat endangered, and shooting lowers their population.

Now scientists know that shooting plays a part in avian deaths near power lines, it appears they need different conservation efforts.

For a while, scientists believed that power lines were mostly at fault. But if birds are dying because of illegal shooting, then scientists may need a different approach.

Illegal shootings are “an overriding issue that just perplexes the heck out of me,” said Brian Millsap, an ornithologist at New Mexico State University.

The researchers are extending their study into Nevada. They are working to comprehend why people shoot at protected birds.

“What’s essential in order to stop the declines of birds is to understand what’s causing the declines of birds,” Pete Marra said. He is an ornithologist at Georgetown University.

But stopping illegal kills is challenging, Dr. Millsap said. Enforcement and prosecution take time. The game plan can be weakened by judges who issue low fines to those who committed illegal shootings.

One thing’s for sure: ornithologists and researchers will do the best they can to make sure that bird populations fly high and stay high.

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