Birds Found Under Power Lines Didn't Die the Way You'd Expect

A surprising number of them had been shot, study finds
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 26, 2023 10:50 AM CDT
A Lot of the Dead Birds Under Power Lines Weren't Electrocuted
   (Getty Images / Anne Wright Dobbelsteyn)

You might understandably think that most of the birds found dead under power lines had been electrocuted. But you'd be wrong, at least according to a recent study flagged by the New York Times. Wildlife biologist Eve Thomason of Boise State University and her colleagues repeatedly walked or drove along 122 miles of power lines in Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. They brought the 410 bird carcasses—mostly belonging to ravens and raptors—found beneath them back to their labs, where they were X-rayed. It turns out a heck of a lot of them had been shot. They were able to determine a cause of death for 175 of the birds, and 66% died from gunshot. Deaths by electrocution or collisions accounted for about 17% of the total each, per USGS.

Co-author Todd Katzner says that while they had heard stories of birds dying in this manner, "this is the first time somebody has done a large-scale study at multiple sites to figure out if this is a problem. This is way more prevalent than we had previously understood." And the X-rays were apparently key. One bald eagle found dead in southeast Oregon had an appearance that suggested death by electrocution so much so that the utility company took actions to reduce future electrocution risk to birds at that site; X-rays showed shotgun pellets in the eagle's body.

The authors note the findings could change the conventional wisdom regarding mitigation on its head. Such efforts have "focused almost exclusively on reducing electrocutions or collisions," they note in the study published in iScience. But the findings suggest that combating illegal shooting—many of the dead birds were protected species, including bald and golden eagles—"now may have greater relevance for avian conservation." (For more recent bird research, read about some crazy nests that have been found.)

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