Communication Towers

There’s a win-win opportunity for both communication tower owners and birds, and it’s as simple as switching to flashing lights on towers.

Each year, nearly 7 million birds die due to night-time collisions with communication towers. By eliminating non-flashing lights on towers, we can reduce migratory bird collisions by as much as 70 percent while simultaneously reducing energy costs for tower owners.

What Needs to be Done?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now supports extinguishing side- marker (L-810) lights on towers taller than 350 ft. above ground level (AGL) and reprogramming non-flashing side-markers on towers 150-350 ft. AGL.

You can save maintenance and energy costs by not using L-810 lights on towers taller than 350 ft. AGL and by using programmable LED lighting systems on towers 150-350 ft.

How to Extinguish Tower Side-markers (L-810) on Towers Taller Than 350 ft. AGL
We have experienced staff eager to help. Just email or call Joelle Gehring (Joelle_Gehring@fws.gov, 989-400-0718)

  1. Request a Determination from FAA (typically takes 2-3 weeks for approval)
     File a Marking and Lighting study with the FAA requesting to extinguish non-flashing, side-marker lights.
    1. Complete  Form 7460-1, Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration
    2. Under Structure Type enter: “Deviation from Red Obstruction Light Standards.”
    3. When complete, send the form to your  FAA contact
    4. Contact Joelle Gehring (Joelle_Gehring@fws.gov, 989-400-0718) if you encounter issues with this process or if the FAA doesn’t respond within three weeks.
  2. Update the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
    Once the FAA approves your request and assigns a new FAA Study Number, update your tower FCC registration using the  Antenna Registration System (ASR). Please select “MD – Modification.” The FCC typically approves applications and modifies registrations within 24 hours.
  3. Extinguish non-flashing tower lights
    This final and typically easy step doesn’t require tower climbing and results in immediate cost savings.

How to Reprogram Tower Side-markers (L-810) from Non-flashing to Flashing on Towers 150-350 ft. AGL
We have experienced staff eager to help. Just email or call Joelle Gehring (Joelle_Gehring@fws.gov, 989-400-0718). An LED light system may be necessary to reprogram non-flashing lights to flash, but ultimately LED systems reduce tower lighting costs.

  1. Request a Determination from FAA (typically takes 2-3 weeks for approval)
    If the existing FAA determination was issued under advisory circular 70/7460-1L before September 28, 2016, you can skip steps 1 and 2.
    1. Complete  Form 7460-1, Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration
    2. Under Structure Type enter: “Deviation from Red Obstruction Light Standards.”
    3. When complete, send the form to your  FAA contact
    4. Contact Joelle Gehring (Joelle_Gehring@fws.gov, 989-400-0718) if you encounter issues with this process or if the FAA doesn’t respond within three weeks.
  2. Update the Federal Communications Commission
    Once the FAA approves your request and assigns a new FAA Study Number, update your tower FCC registration using the  Antenna Registration System (ASR). Please select “MD – Modification.” The FCC usually approves applications and modifies registrations within 24 hours.
  3. Reprogram non-flashing tower lights to flash
    LED lighting systems are easily reprogrammed, low maintenance, and use less energy than incandescent lights. Typically, light manufacturers don’t recommend reprogramming incandescent lighting systems.

Tower owners are saving thousands of birds and thousands of dollars with reduced energy and maintenance costs. Your efforts are worth the reward!

How do communication towers endanger migratory birds?
Communication towers are important for our cell phones, radios, TVs, and public safety. Currently, the United State has more than 160,000 registered communication towers taller than 200 ft. AGL, and more towers are built every year.

Approximately 6.6 million migratory birds collide with communication towers in the United States every year. Most of the birds that collide with towers are night migrating songbirds on their journeys to and from warmer climates for the winter. Scientists documented  54 Bird species of Conservation Concern as tower fatalities. Given that our bird populations have decreased by  three billion birds since 1970, we need to reduce bird losses in as many ways as possible. The Service’s Migratory Bird Program first focused on bird collisions with towers after a large fatality event in 1998 when 5,000-10,000 Lapland Longspurs and other songbird species died at 3 towers in western Kansas.

Since then, we have partnered with bird biologists, the tower industry, and key federal agencies, including the  Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the  Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As a team we developed and implemented actions that help avoid and minimize impacts to migratory birds from towers and other tall tower-like structures.

Why do birds collide with communication towers?
We don’t know why birds collide with towers; however, research determined that the risk to birds increases when towers:

  • Are lit with non-flashing lights at night
  • Have guy wires for support
  • Are taller than 350 feet
  • Are located in areas with inclement weather
  • Are located in areas with high densities of migrating birds flying nearby
  • Are located along ridgelines, which brings migrating birds closer to tall towers

Night-migrating songbirds are either attracted to or disoriented by tower lights, especially during overcast, foggy, or other low visibility conditions. Birds congregate in larger numbers at towers with non-flashing lights compared to those tower with only flashing lights. Birds may also congregate at flashing lights during the “on” phase but disperse during the “off phase.” Lights on associated buildings and parking lots can also attract birds to the tower area and increase their risk of collision.

What are some ways to reduce the risk of bird collisions with towers?
Extinguishing or reprogramming non-flashing lights is the best way to reduce bird collisions with existing towers. Tower owners can save money while reducing bird collisions by as much as 70%. You can make the world safer for birds by  connecting with tower owners using the American Bird Conservancy’s resources. The  Communication Tower Lighting Fact Sheet(121.2KB) provides information about the new lighting standards.

Since December 2015, when the FAA released a revised  Advisory Circular, new tower construction includes bird-friendly lighting and existing towers are encouraged to reduce lighting and operating costs by updating to the new flashing light systems. The FAA continued flashing light recommendations in the  2020 Advisory Circular. We work closely with the  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the  Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure that lighting and communication tower development and maintenance practices continue to work toward avoiding and minimizing impacts to migratory birds. Tower owners can use the FCC's  Opportunities to Reduce Bird Collisions with Communications Towers While Reducing Tower Lighting Costs (219.2KB) which provides guidance on applying the new lighting standards, and reducing construction and maintenance costs.

Tower related bird fatalities can also be reduced during pre-construction through tower maintenance phases by using the Recommended Best Practices for Communication Tower Design, Siting, Construction, Operation, Maintenance, and Decommissioning (235.7KB).

We all have opportunities to reduce collisions with towers and make the world a safer place for birds. For more information about measures and guidance for avoiding and minimizing impacts to migratory birds, please visit the Conservation Measures and Guidance Documents webpages.

Material on this webpage was sourced from:
 Avery et al. 1976 (253.6KB)
 Ball et al. 1995 (309.5KB)
 Cochran and Graber 1958 (198.4KB)
 Erickson et al. 2005 (256.2KB)
 Evans et al. 2007 (2.8MB), FCC 2012
 Gauthreaux and Belser 1999 (27.2KB)
 Gauthreaux and Belser 2006 (891.6KB)
 Gehring et al. 2009
 Gehring et al. 2011 (135KB)
Larkin and Frase 1988
 Longcore et al. 2012 (2.8MB)
Longcore et al. 2012a
Manville 2014
Pascual 2006
 Patterson 2012 (1.1MB)
Poot et al. 2008.

Last Updated: July 30, 2021