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Cranes find allies in utility companies

Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo by Laura Erickson

Whooping and Sandhill Cranes are gaining new allies as utility companies in Kansas and Wisconsin work to prevent the birds from colliding with powerlines during their migratory journeys.

In Kansas, since 2013, utility companies have marked more than 100 miles of the riskiest powerlines to make them more visible to the birds. Although rare, collision with powerlines is the greatest known source of mortality for fledged Whooping Cranes.

The work is taking place on lines in Kansas assessed to pose the highest risk to migrating birds within 5 miles of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms, which are important stopover areas between the species’ wintering and breeding grounds. By the end of 2019, 113 miles of high-risk lines at Cheyenne Bottoms will be marked, while 90 miles out of 130 will be marked at Quivira.

Various marker designs have been used in this effort, following guidelines developed by the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee. While most can be installed by hand, some markers require the use of helicopters for installation on transmission lines that are inaccessible from the ground due to height and safety reasons.

Three states away in Wisconsin, the Aldo Leopold Foundation and partners are collaborating to reduce the risk of Sandhill Cranes colliding with a transmission line that will pass through important habitat. As a result, along an 11-mile stretch near the Leopold-Pine Island Important Bird Area, the state’s American Transmission Company agreed to install shorter towers and a horizontal arrangement of wires that pose a reduced collisions risk.

Ten thousand Sandhills gather in this area each year as they prepare to head south, and the line’s proposed route cuts directly through the cranes’ daily commute between the agricultural fields where they forage and the Wisconsin River sandbars where they roost. Although it won’t go into operation until other sections are completed, construction of the segment of line in question is now finished, and the bird-friendly mitigation measures are in place.

Ensuring that human development can coexist with cranes and other birds is an ongoing process. But in Kansas, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, people are coming together to figure it out — a hopeful advancement for bird conservation.


This article, from American Bird Conservancy’s “Eye on Conservation” column, was published in the November/December 2018 issue of BirdWatching.

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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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