Hawaii's Using Lasers to Scare Endangered Birds Away From Power Lines

Hawaii has a bird problem. They keep crashing into power lines and dying. While that's not so grim when pigeons are involved, the situation gets more serious when the birds are endangered. And many of the species in Hawaii are. That's why they're busting out the lasers.

On the island of Kaua'i, a local utility cooperative is using 30 lasers to create a "light fence" around poles and lines. They hope that the birds—especially the endangered ones—will see the lasers and fly around the obstacles instead of crashing into them. Because birds hate lasers.

"As far as we know, this is the first time anywhere that lasers have been used to create a 'fence' for the birds," said Carey Koide from the Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC). "The purpose of this research is to learn more about the birds and their patterns of activity so we can come up with ways to minimize potential hazards and do it in a cost-effective way." In other words, it's cheaper than burying the lines.

Hawaii's Using Lasers to Scare Endangered Birds Away From Power Lines

The 'Aikiki is one of the species at risk.

So the effect is two-fold. One, the lasers help keep birds away from the dangerous lines. And two, researchers will change the colors of the lights and turn them off from time-to-time to learn more about the birds' flight and migratory patterns with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife. If it works, they'll spread the model to other locations in the state. The researcher say that the lasers are safe for human eyes and arranged in such a way that they shouldn't distract airplane pilots.

The dark side of this exciting plan is that KIUC appears to be covering its ass a little bit, after it pled guilty to violations of the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act back in 2010. The charge: KIUC's power lines were killing endangered birds. And now, the utility cooperative is trying to save them. Three cheers for justice? [Motherboard, DOJ]

Images via KIUC/Wikipedia