Phone towers & bird calls

To: "Birding-aus" <>
Subject: Phone towers & bird calls
From: "Terry Bishop" <>
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2007 18:19:59 +1100
I don't wish to start another wind turbine debate but found this story of 

Terry B
Orange NSW

Wildlife ring tones result in dropped birds
Renee A. James
I have another story to add to my ''now I've seen everything'' file. According 
to the Center for Biological Diversity, thousands of consumers have responded 
enthusiastically to its offer of free endangered species sounds, re-mastered as 
ring tones for cell phones. These would be the very same cell phones that 
require transmission sites, the ones that scar the landscape and contribute 
more towers, metal and waves to our neighborhoods and open lands. Is it me, or 
is this the most awkward, and improbable, marriage of nature and technology 

Why settle for a pop song or a sound bite from a favorite movie when your phone 
can alert you to an incoming call with the sound of a mountain yellow-legged 
frog instead? A press release stated that the organization offers about 40 
sounds, ostensibly for people searching for just the right ring tone to signify 
their environmental awareness. For now, the most popular nature sound for cell 
phones is the orca whale, but people who visited the center's Web site also 
appear to be entranced by the sounds of the Beluga whale, boreal owl, 
blue-throated macaw and Yosemite toad. In the coming weeks, it plans to add the 
polar bear, gray wolf and many more species to the list of choices.

As you select your free ring tone from the center's Web site, you can also 
download information and photos about that particular animal, aquatic creature, 
bird or reptile and read more about what you can do to preserve wildlife and 
save the species from extinction. According to Peter Galvin, the center's 
director, ''Ringing phones are now starting conversations about the need to 
protect endangered species.''

That may well be true, but ringing phones - at least those that utilize a 
bird's call - may start another kind of conversation. Paul Schmidt, assistant 
director for the migratory birds program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
states that cell phone towers are just the latest in technology towers that 
have threatened birds for decades. In a Los Angeles Times article that appeared 
in November, he claimed ''We're talking millions of birds dying because of 
these towers.'' The truth is, ever since the advent of the lighthouse, birds 
have been drawn to beacons of light that provide a warning or a welcome to 
ships and aircraft. But the proliferation of towers, due to the broadcasting 
industry and now, cellular technology, have dramatically increased the number 
of lights in the sky across the country, far away from the coasts and 
mountaintops that previously housed these towers. (In 1996, there were 24,802 
cellular transmitting sites in this country. By 2006, that number had grown to 
197,576, although not all of these are individual towers.) Estimates of the 
annual death toll among migratory birds due to dangers posed by cell towers 
alone ranges from 4 million to some 50 million birds.

The Los Angeles Times article quoted another official from the Fish and 
Wildlife Service who also has reservations about adding towers to the national 
landscape. Albert Manville, a senior wildlife biologist in the Division of 
Migratory Bird Management said, ''These structures continue to grow 
exponentially and we're going to see more and more problems.''

There is a way to make the towers more wildlife friendly, and it comes at a 
high price. Some studies have shown that blinking white lights are less 
hazardous to birds than steady-burning red lights, but this type of strobe 
lighting is considerably more expensive than a steady light. If tower builders 
and cellular companies reconfigure their systems, guess who will pay the bill 
for those less harmful lights? (On the other hand, most communities don't want 
distracting blinking lights on their towers; they prefer a steady red light.)

But, back to those wildlife ring tones. You could argue that the Center for 
Biological Diversity is simply embracing the genie that can't be but back in 
the bottle - cell phones - and using them to call attention to the plight of 
all kinds of endangered species. If even a small percentage of cell phone users 
learn about the environment and the dangers we pose to a number of animals 
through irresponsible or unsafe behavior, that's a good outcome.

It just still seems odd to me that the very lifeblood of cell phone technology, 
the transmission towers that carry signals from place to place to place and cut 
down on those annoying ''dropped calls,'' may result in more than a few - 
pardon the expression - dropped birds.

Renée A. James lives in Allentown. Her e-mail address is  and her 
blog is http://

''Estimates of the

annual death toll among

migratory birds due to dangers posed by cell towers alone

ranges from 4 million to some 50 million birds.''


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