Collisions and electrocutions at power lines are thought to kill large numbers of birds in the United States annually. However, existing estimates of mortality are either speculative (for electrocution) or based on extrapolation of results from one study to all U.S. power lines (for collision). Because national-scale estimates of mortality and comparisons among threats are likely to be used for prioritizing policy and management strategies and for identifying major research needs, these estimates should be based on systematic and transparent assessment of rigorously collected data.
We conducted a quantitative review that incorporated data from 14 studies meeting our inclusion criteria to estimate that between 12 and 64 million birds are killed each year at U.S. power lines, with between 8 and 57 million birds killed by collision and between 0.9 and 11.6 million birds killed by electrocution. Sensitivity analyses indicate that the majority of uncertainty in our estimates arises from variation in mortality rates across studies; this variation is due in part to the small sample of rigorously conducted studies that can be used to estimate mortality.
Little information is available to quantify species-specific vulnerability to mortality at power lines; the available literature over-represents particular bird groups and habitats, and most studies only sample and present data for one or a few species. Furthermore, additional research is needed to clarify whether, to what degree, and in what regions populations of different bird species are affected by power line-related mortality. Nonetheless, our data-driven analysis suggests that the amount of bird mortality at U.S. power lines is substantial and that conservation management and policy is necessary to reduce this mortality.