Over 750 Tall Towers Have Changed Their Lighting To Protect Birds
Call it a love of nature. Call it new FCC guidelines, either way large tower owners are adapting their lighting infrastructure and, according to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), it is having a positive impact on our feathered friends. New guidelines for communication tower lights spell out how tower operators can save birds and energy without sacrificing safety, according to the ABC, which bills itself as “the Western Hemisphere’s bird conservation specialist.” The FCC and FAA say the guidelines strongly encourage tower operators to turn off or reprogram steady-burning red or white lights in favor of flashing lights, which are less harmful to birds yet still alert pilots to the towers’ presence.
The FAA and FCC have officially recognized that: birds are attracted to non-flashing red lights, such as L-810 side-marker lights; and birds are much less attracted to flashing lights on towers, such as L-864 and L-865 lights.
The FCC guidelines state: “As of December 4, 2015, FAA no longer permits red non-flashing lights on new towers over 350 feet. It also asked owners of existing towers to submit plans for changing their tower lights. The FCC and FAA have developed a process by which registrants may extinguish non-flashing lights on existing towers over 350 feet AGL. After September 15, 2016, towers between 150 and 350 feet AGL will also be expected to have only flashing lights.”
Steady burning lights on communications towers disorient migratory birds at night, Christine Sheppard, ABC’s Bird Collisions Campaign Manager said. As of late October, operators of more than 750 tall towers nationwide already updated their lighting systems under the new guidelines. Making the switch, the Conservancy said, saves energy, reduces operating costs, and reduces bird collisions substantially.
As many as seven million birds a year die in collisions with towers and the guy wires that support them according to The Conservancy studies. “By extinguishing the non-flashing lights on towers, we can reduce night-time bird fatality rates by as much as 70 percent,” Sheppard said.
“We wish to thank the operators of the 700-plus towers that have already switched their lighting to help reduce mortality of birds,” Sheppard said. “But there are still some 15,000 tall towers across the U.S. with outdated lights that are dangerous for birds. We are asking all tower operators to make this cost-saving and life-saving switch to help migratory birds.”
The FCC and FAA are expected to release specifications for flashing lights on towers 150 to 350 ft. AGL soon.
The FAA is calling on owners to eliminate the use of non-flashing lights on all towers. “New tower lighting schemes should now follow the revised guidance, and operators of towers with the old lighting system should submit plans explaining how and when they will transition to the new standards,” the agency said in a news release.
Read FAA Federal Lighting Regulations here.