Bird Fatality/Injury Reporting Program
Office of Law Enforcement   
U S Fish and Wildlife Service
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Frequently Asked Questions
1. Q: Do I have to report?
A:   There is not a legislative or regulatory requirement for electric utilities to report bird electrocutions or collisions with power equipment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). Reporting of bird mortalities and injuries is generally done on a voluntary basis, unless a court order or formal agreement requires reporting. It should be noted that concealment of violations of Federal law may create additional liability for the individual and/or company who conceals them. Additionally, failure to report undermines the relationship between industry and the Service, and will affect our ability to cooperatively address the issue of unauthorized take of migratory birds.

In Region 7 (Alaska), where utilities have been voluntarily reporting bird deaths and injuries since 2000, faxed or emailed reports can no longer be accepted. The new Web-based reporting system will serve as the exclusive method by which electric utilities will report bird interactions with their power equipment.
2. Q: Why should I report?
A:   Reporting bird electrocutions and collisions to the Fish and Wildlife Service serves several purposes. It provides the Service an opportunity to recover dead and injured birds. Reporting the location of an injured bird allows for the bird to be recovered and transferred to an appropriate facility for treatment. Dead birds, particularly eagles, can be salvaged for distribution to interested and qualified Natives for religious purposes, or for other permitted uses.

Collecting information about the locations and circumstances under which birds are killed or injured on power equipment serves the primary purpose of determining how to prevent future bird interactions. The database is intended for use by utilities to see which structures and equipment are hazardous to birds, and under what conditions. Further, reporting whether and what type of retrofit measures were in place at the time of an electrocution or collision will provide feedback about the effectiveness of existing retrofitting techniques and equipment. This will enhance the effectiveness of future retrofitting actions on existing equipment, and improve the configuration design for new equipment.

Preventing bird-caused outages is not just a conservation concern for the Service, it is also an economic and public relations concern for utilities.
3. Q: Do I report all birds or just eagles?
A:   All birds should be reported if they are injured or killed on power equipment, not just eagles. Though eagles are more sought after for salvage purposes, and consequently will be recovered by the Service whenever possible, virtually all birds, including waterfowl (except state game birds and pigeons) are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The mission of the Service includes protection of all migratory birds. Further, collecting information about all bird-caused outages into a centralized database will facilitate the prevention of future electrocutions.
4. Q: If I voluntarily report aren't I setting myself up for prosecution?
A:   The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712) prohibits the taking, killing, possession, sale transportation, and importation of migratory birds, their eggs, parts, and nests, except when specifically authorized by the Department of the Interior. While the Act has no provision for allowing unauthorized take, it is understood that some birds may be killed even if all reasonable measures to avoid it are implemented. The Service‚Äôs Office of Law Enforcement carries out its mission to protect migratory birds not only through investigations and enforcement, but also through fostering relationships with individuals and industries who proactively seek to eliminate their impacts on migratory birds. While it is not possible under the Act to absolve individuals or companies from liability if they follow approved conservation guidelines, enforcement will be focused, as it has been in the past, on those individuals or companies that take migratory birds with disregard for their actions and the law, and where no valid conservation measures have been properly applied.

Voluntarily reporting bird electrocutions will not "set up" a utility for prosecution. On the contrary, utility companies who consistently and accurately report bird interactions with their equipment and take the appropriate action to address the hazardous equipment effectively reduce their exposure to legal sanctions. In short, if communication and willingness to cooperatively resolve issues is high, the likelihood of negative consequences resulting from the take will be low.
5. Q: What do I do with bird carcasses?
A:   In most USFWS regions, every reasonable effort will be made to salvage eagle carcasses in particular, and other carcasses as necessary. If it is not practical for a Service employee to recover an eagle carcass, as with electrocutions in remote locations, the Service requests the eagle carcass be recovered and turned over to the nearest Service office (and that disposition be noted on the mortality report). Other bird carcasses usually do not need to be salvaged, unless requested by the Service on a case-by-case basis. Generally, if a non-eagle is electrocuted in a populated area, it is better to collect and properly dispose of the bird than leave it lay.

Utility employees who recover bird carcasses and promptly turn them over to the Service will NOT be prosecuted for unlawful possession of migratory birds. Verbal authorization from a Service employee can be obtained but is not required prior to recovering a dead bird (Disposition needs to be noted on the reporting form). However, if a utility wishes to obtain a salvage permit prior to recovering dead or injured migratory birds and eagles, they can apply and will likely receive a salvage permit in most Regions, including Region 7 (Alaska). A salvage permit does come with conditions, including an annual reporting requirement.
6. Q: What do I do when encountering injured birds?
A:   Injured birds should be reported to the nearest Service office as soon as possible to provide the best chance for treatment and recovery. If a permitted bird rehabilitator is nearby, the rehabilitator can recover the bird directly for treatment. The utility will still need to report the bird injury to the Service Website, and indicate in the disposition field to who the bird was transferred.

If an injured bird is encountered by a utility employee and it is not practical to have a bird rehabilitator or a Service employee recover the bird, the Service requests the bird be recovered and transferred promptly for treatment. Again, utility employees will NOT be prosecuted for unlawful possession of a migratory bird if they pick up an injured bird and transfer it to a permitted rehabilitator or Service employee or office (disposition needs to be noted on the reporting form). Verbal authorization from a Service employee can be obtained but is not required prior to recovering an injured bird.
7. Q: Are there diseases I can catch from handling carcasses?
A:   Though the chance of catching an avian-borne disease is extremely rare, the chance does exist. Birds should ALWAYS be handled with rubber gloves. Dead birds recovered for the Service should be frozen as soon as possible and remain frozen until transferred.
8. Q: If a bird is electrocuted do we always have to retrofit the pole?
A:   Not all bird electrocutions or collisions require retrofits to power poles or lines. Conversely, retrofitting only the pole that caused the electrocution may not always be sufficient, because similarly configured poles in the same area may be just as hazardous and attractive to birds as the pole that caused the death or injury. The best approach is to implement a regular maintenance and appropriate retrofitting schedule in accordance with a comprehensive Avian Protection Plan.
9. Q: If we can't tell that a bird is electrocuted will the USFWS perform a necropsy to determine the cause of death?
A:   In most USFWS regions, there are a few facilities that have the ability to perform a thorough necropsy to help confirm the cause of death. In some cases the entry and exit wounds can also be identified to help determine the mechanism of the electrocution injury. This helps specifically identify the hazardous equipment, and determine an appropriate retrofit action, if applicable.

For bird fatalities in Alaska, the SeaLife Center in Seward is willing to receive frozen birds and perform a necropsy for a fee. The fee is the responsibility of the electric utility. While the Service does have the capability to perform necropsies, this is only done in criminal cases at the Forensic Lab in Ashland, Oregon.
10. Q: Who will have access to this information?
A:   The information will be used by the Service and by the electric utility industry to work towards elimination of bird electrocutions and collisions. It is intended to facilitate a collaborative, cooperative approach to this widespread problem. As with most information collected by a government agency, the information is available for public review through appropriate requests.
11. Q: What will the Fish and Wildlife Service do with this information?
A:   The information on bird electrocutions and collisions will be used by the Service primarily to work with the electric industry towards elimination of bird interactions on power equipment. The data will also be available for use as appropriate by Service biologists and others for biological research, management and other purposes.


Last Updated: March 12, 2008
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