Power lines


Bird-killing power lines

Large areas of pristine grasslands, low human population density and its location at the crossroads of several important migration flyways make the Kazakh Steppe a very important area for many species of breeding and migrating birds. With the start of the soviet “Virgin land campaign” in 1950s hundreds of thousands of people arriving from other areas of the Soviet union settled in steppe areas of Kazakhstan and electrification of new settlements involved use of thousands of kilometres of power lines stretched between isolated villages.

Power lines are especially advantageous for many birds using treeless steppe during migration and for breeding and are widely used for nesting or as perches. However, numerous studies in Europe and North America show high mortality rates for various bird species caused by electrocution and collision with power lines (1,6). Only very few studies were conducted in the steppe of Kazakhstan (3,4,5). These studies give an idea of the scale of the impact of power line electrocution and collision on populations of some bird species, in particular raptors. Several globally threatened species, including Saker Falcon Falco cherrug and Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca were found electrocuted under power lines (3,4, pers. observations). It is has been suggested that electrocution alone may be a reason for the decline of Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis (3,5). Very old and poorly constructed power line supporting poles and insulators are still widely used throughout the region and there are plans for construction of new long distance power lines in the country (2).

There is an urgent need for focused research to identify the most deadly power lines, followed by informing and collaboration with electric companies in renovation or replacement of old power lines and making new lines ‘bird proof’. An important first step forward has been taken recently by a project “Assessing the impact of power lines on birds in Central Kazakhstan steppes” run by students and funded by Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), GEF/SGP, ACBKNABU and Ecomuseum.

To date, after the completion of their third field season, the project team has collected data on bird mortalities along a total of 680 km of power lines. The team has also identified several most dangerous types of power lines within two study sites in Karagandy and Torgai regions and in collaboration with the local energy company conducted an experimental insulation of several sections (7). More information on this project you can find here (in English and Russian) and here (in Russian).


1. Garrido, J.R., Fernandez-Cruz, M. (2003). Effects of power lines on a White Stork Ciconia ciconia population in central Spain. Ardeola 50, 191-200.

2. Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company (KEGOC) (2014). Investment projects. (from http://www.kegoc.kz/en/about/development_plan)

3. Karyakin, I. V. (2008). Lethal lines continue to harvest their crop in Kazakhstan. Raptors conservation 11: 14-21.

4. Lasch, U., Zerbe, S., Lenk, M. (2010). Electrocution of raptors at power lines in Central Kazakhstan. Waldökologie, Landschaftsforschung und Naturschutz 9: 95-100

5. Moseikin, V.N. (2003). The operation and construction of fatal power lines continues in Russia and Kazakhstan. Abstract. World Conference on Birds of Prey, Budapest, May 2003.

6. Rubolini, D., M. Gustin, et al. (2005). Birds and powerlines in Italy: an assessment. Bird Conservation International 15(2): 131-145

7. Voronova, V.V., Pulikova G.I., Kim K.K, Andreeeva E.V., Bekker V.R., Aitbaev T. (2012). The impact of power lines on bird mortality in central Kazakhstan. Raptors conservation 24: 52-60

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