Flight altitudes of a soaring bird suggest landfill sites as power line collision hotspots

Joana Marcelino, Francisco Moreira, Aldina M. A. Franco, Andrea Soriano-Redondo, Marta Acacio, Jethro Gauld, Francico Castro Rego, João Paulo Silva, Inês Catry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Anthropogenic structures are increasingly encroaching wildlife habitats, creating conflicts between humans and animals. Scaling up renewable energy requires new infrastructures such as power lines, that cause high mortality among birds since they act as obstacles to flight and are used for perching and nesting, which can result in collisions or electrocutions. These interactions often endanger wildlife populations and may also result in high financial costs for companies. Flight behaviour plays a crucial role in collision risk, and the study of flight altitudes enables us to understand what drives birds to fly at collision risk altitudes. This allows the identification of high-risk areas, conditions and bird behaviours, and the implementation of mitigation measures by power line companies. In this study, we use boosted random tree modelling to identify drivers of white stork (Ciconia ciconia) flight altitudes and to investigate the factors that lead them to fly at collision risk altitudes. We found that the main drivers of flight altitude for this soaring bird species were time of day, distance to the nearest landfill site and cloud cover density. Bird age, habitat type and season were comparatively less important. Collision risk increases during crepuscular hours near landfill sites, also in days with high cloud cover density and during the breeding season. In recent years, hundreds to thousands of storks congregate daily at landfill sites to take advantage of the predictability and superabundance of anthropogenic food waste. Some of these sites have high density of power lines, becoming collision risk hotspots for storks and other landfill users. Despite being susceptible to collision, our results suggest that white storks can avoid power lines to a certain extent, by changing their flight altitude at ca. 80 m from these structures. This study shows that the implementation of mitigation measures for existing power lines should be prioritized in areas in the vicinity of landfill sites within white stork distribution ranges, and the projection of new lines should avoid those areas. These measures would benefit species vulnerable to mortality due to power line collision, and it would also reduce associated power outages and economic costs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113149
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Volume294
Early online date1 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Collision hotspot
  • Collision risk
  • Flight altitudes
  • Landfills
  • Mitigation measures
  • Power lines

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