Bird Power

The towers that support electric power lines improve bird diversity on farms, European scientists have found.

Power lines aren’t generally considered wildlife-friendly, since birds can crash into them or get electrocuted. But some birds, such as storks, have adopted the supporting towers — also called pylons — as nesting sites. “[P]aradoxically, in intensive farmland widespread across Europe, electricity pylons and especially the small patches of habitat at their base may benefit bird species,” the study authors write in Conservation Letters.

The team counted birds at 91 plots on farms in Poland. At each site, the researchers studied birds at a pylon base and 200 meters or more away from the pylon. They also noted whether the patch under the pylon contained grass, shrubs and trees, or a mixture.

The spots under pylons hosted 34 species of birds, while nearby open fields hosted only 22 species, the authors report. The number of birds at the pylons was also higher than the number in the fields.

Birds are probably attracted to the grass and shrubs at the bases of the towers, the authors say. Farmers could support the birds by expanding the wild habitat patches around pylons. Roberta Kwok | 27 March 2013

Source: Tryjanowski, P. et al. 2013. A paradox for conservation: electricity pylons may benefit avian diversity in intensive farmland. Conservation Letters doi: 10.1111/conl.12022.

Image © WDG Photo |



  • arkoptrix March 27, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Lest we fall all over ourselves believing what a “good” thing this is we may want to ask some questions and make some observations.
    1) what was the successful breeding rates of the species in the comparative sites?
    2) was the difference in number of species and types simply explainable by habitat differentiation?
    3) How were the surveys conducted?

    This is yet another article behind a paywall so critical review is precluded.

    Obs. 1) These mini-habitats at the bases of the pylons constitute a fragmented patchwork of habitats which will suffice for some species but not for others.
    Obs. 2) This landscape was already altered/degraded once by being transformed into agriculture. Assuming the addition of the pylons came later , they did introduce some variation in vegetation but it is often “managed” by herbicides and pesticides which have their own corresponding effects on birds and other wildlife.


    • roberta March 28, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks for your interest in the article. Here’s some more detailed information from the study about the survey methods:

      “The study was conducted during the 2011 breeding season in the Wielkopolska province, western Poland… We randomly chose 91 study plots… located at least 1 km apart. Within each plot, birds were counted from three habitats: (1) from the base of the pylon; (2) in the field under power lines at least 200 m from a pylon; and (3) in the open fields 200 m perpendicular to the power lines. We used a point count method with radius 50 m and time duration of 5 min for each habitat… Each point was counted twice in the breeding season; the first census was conducted between 15-25 April, and the second between 20-30 May…

      Our data were collected during one breeding season and did not cover potential year-to- year variation in bird assemblages. However, it is difficult to imagine that our general findings would differ substantially between years (our unpublished preliminary observations from earlier years showed a similar pattern to that found in this study).”


  • George F. March 29, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Unfortunately, biodiversity conservation must take into account more than just total species numbers. In many areas of the world, grassland birds are declining much more rapidly than others and where this is true, introducing shrub habitat to open grassland could run counter to grassland conservation goals.


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