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Eagles and other protected birds are being shot off power lines, study finds

A golden eagle perched on a power pole, backdropped by a clear blue sky.
Eden Ravecca
/
Boise State University
A golden eagle perched on a power pole in southern Wyoming. In some parts of the Great Basin, power poles are the tallest structures available for perching and nesting.

The common assumption is that electrocution is the greatest danger to birds perched on power lines. New research highlights an even bigger threat: people shooting at them.

Researchers walked along more than 120 miles of power lines across public lands in four Western states: Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Oregon. Of the 410 dead birds they collected, they were able to determine the cause of death for 175 of them.

About 66% of those birds died from gunshots, according to a new study published in the journal iScience. For comparison, electrocution and collisions each accounted for around 17% of the deaths.

Eve Thomason, a Boise State University wildlife biologist and lead author of the study, said most of the dead birds they collected were eagles, hawks and falcons. All are protected by federal law.

“When you’re doing X-rays and examining all these dead birds, and every time you do it, a majority of them are shot, I didn’t get used to it, I’ll just say that,” Thomason said. “It was always surprising. I just have to think about the impacts that this could be having on [bird] populations.”

Thomason said they are expanding their research to see where else in the West those patterns exist. Nevada is the next state they plan to survey.

The researchers are also working on a separate study on what motivates people to shoot protected birds.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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