Could the electro-magnetic radiation emitted by these towers be affecting the birds homing ability? Or is there something going wrong at an even deeper level?
The Times in England reported that one pigeon fancier lost two-thirds of his pigeons since a tower was installed next to his farm. He believes that emissions from the mast are responsible for damaging the birds’ homing instincts.
He says that pigeons have been kept on the property for over 40 years, and he has never lost so many birds as now, after the tower has been installed.
Now he and hundreds of fellow breeders are reported to be close to taking legal action again the mobile phone companies for damages.
The mobile phone companies deny that their towers and the radiation that emits from them is dangerous or harmful to the birds. They say that there is no evidence to show that emissions from mobile phone masts have a damaging effect on animals or birds, but added that more research might be done into the issue in the future.
This case isn’t the first time that mobile phone masts have been accused of affecting birds. Research by German scientists in 1999 suggested that short wave radiation had an “undefined negative” impact on homing pigeons. It was found that exposed birds took longer to get home, flew at lower levels and were reluctant to go near transmitters.
However there are also studies where pigeons have been released near powerful radio transmitters or radar installations, which has shown no effect on the pigeon’s homing performance.
So why are there such different results?
It is thought that pigeons use a range of cues and senses to find their way home – not just the magnetic fields of the earth.
One theory is that they primarily use the sun to determine which direction to fly. They can account for the time of day, but of course if it is cloudy then they may have to rely more heavily on the magnetic fields for direction.
But how do they know which way to head in the first place? A group of researchers at the University of Pisa in Italy think that it may actually be by smell. They suggest that pigeons growing up in a loft learn the odors that come with the wind from various directions. Perhaps garlic fields with a North wind, olive groves from the South etc. So when a pigeon is released, it sniffs the air and remembers from which direction that particular odor came. Another suggestion is that pigeons remember the sequence of odors on the way to the release point. Then when they are released they simply fly back along that odor trail.
But then why would all these pigeons go missing? Why are mass numbers of birds in a race getting lost?
There German research has shown medium frequency radio waves do disturb the sensory system that pigeons use to detect one aspect of the earth’s magnetic field.
So perhaps it depends on which sensory system they are relying on most at the time of the race. So that may explain why in some research it is shown to have no effect, but in other research it is shown to have a major effect.
Rae Lewis from Ontario Canada has made some other interesting observations after having a tower installed near her home.
First, that it is possible through five generations of breeding birds subjected to Electro-Magnetic Frequencies (EMF), hatching rates are in decline. Eggs are being produced but with lower egg fertility and egg development
Second, birds can be subjected to stress through EMF and stress leads to health issues in most cases.
Third, that her birds seem to have lost the ability to home, but that the birds will try to adapt if methods surrounding husbandry are modified.
Fourth, that when new equipment was replaced on the cell tower the birds seemed to be even more affected.
Fifth, she tested her theory by exposing a pigeon to the EMF at a close distance. Immediately the bird responded frantically and heart rate increased significantly.
The Guardian in England also reported high numbers of pigeon loss due to mobile phone towers. It reported that many fanciers have had to change the route their birds take to fly home, known as the road, to avoid the perils of modern technology.
The British Royal Pigeon Racing Association (BRPRA) is calling for research into the impact of the masts. It also wants them fitted with tracking devices to monitor what happens when they pass the masts.
Anne Pitkeathly, from the Isle of Wight said “In a season I lost 40 birds and had to switch to the Dover south road which has been much better. “I would think that it should be possible to fit trackers to birds… to know exactly if they are put off course by emissions from masts.”
She claimed one of her pigeons had recently reacted badly after being near a mast, saying it was “stressed” and “trying to be sick”.
Graham Deacon, also from the Isle of Wight, said he would welcome research into the issue. “On one race from Winchester last year I lost more than 80 birds,” he said.
This is an ongoing debate – and one which needs more evidence from fanciers like you. Share your experiences in the comments below and on the Facebook page.
Have you had any trouble with phone towers? Do you believe you have lost a high number of birds in a race do to this issue? Have you noticed issues from having a tower installed near your loft?
Or do you think the towers are safe?
Lets open the debate!