Two major threats to birds worldwide are collisions with power lines and disorientation caused by artificial light sources. This is especially true on the island of Kaua`i, where both power lines and artificial lights are a serious threat to the three endangered and endemic seabirds, the Newell’s Shearwater, Hawaiian Petrel, and Band-rumped Storm Petrel. These seabirds are vulnerable to colliding with power lines when they make frequent nocturnal flights from the sea to their montane breeding colonies and back again.  The young of these species are particularly vulnerable to grounding when they become disoriented by artificial lights on their maiden voyage to the sea. 

The Underline Monitoring Project (UMP), which is a sub-project within KESRP, has multiple related research avenues; 1) determine where and to what extent seabirds hit power lines or are grounded by lights, 2) identify environmental and behavioral predictors of power line collision and grounding, 3) conduct experiments testing the efficacy of minimization strategies.  Brief descriptions of the methods used to achieve these three overarching goals are described below.  

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Beautiful sunset on the Kahili field site

Early version of the laser fence designed to push bird flight height above power line height

Helicopter belly hookup

Night vision observation with and without Near Infrared Lights

Underline Monitoring Team training for observation surveys

Sunset behind the mountains near Lihue crater.

Power lines running through coffee fields. (drone photo)

UMP team surveying for grounded birds (drone photo)

Morning sunrise with fog near Lihue crater.

Visual Observation Surveys


Visual observations are a major component of the UMP.  Data from visual observations are used to determine species composition, passage rate, flight height, and avian behavior at power lines on the island. These data are then used to determine collision risk and how risk varies across the power line grid.  Visual observations are also used to determine the immediate fate of birds when a collision occurs.  Finally, data from visual observations are used to validate both the acoustic monitoring and thermal camera systems that we employ to quantify collisions when observers are not present.

To visually observe these endangered seabirds during sunrise and sunset UMP staff use binoculars and height guide referencing tools to identify the species of bird and height in which the bird is flying relative to the power lines.  Once day turns to night, UMP staff use high-tech gear such as night vision goggles, near infrared lights, and thermal imaging cameras to observe bird interactions with the power lines.  Our visual observations can be divided into low and high elevation surveys.  At low elevation sites, we can drive to the survey location.  However, some of the most hazardous power lines for seabirds are located in the mountains of Kaua’i where high voltage lines run from ridge line to ridge line. To conduct surveys at high elevation sites the UMP crew and equipment are transported in and out of the field using helicopters.

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Visual observation survey location on the power line trail

UMP staff surveying seabirds at power lines (Photo David M. Golden)

Power lines observed through night vision

UMP staff testing their height measurement accuracy

Helicopter belly hookup training

Helicopter coming in to pickup slingload on power line trail

Helicopter sling load training (Photo David M. Golden)

Acoustic Monitoring


When a bird hits a power line, a unique sound is made.  By placing acoustic recording devices at the base of (or directly on) a power pole, we can detect the "strike" sound.  By strategically placing these recording devices throughout the power line grid, we are able to determine which power line sections have a greater risk to endangered seabirds.  With over 70 recording devices, it takes a full team to plan, deploy, and maintain these recording devices over a full field season.  

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Sound spectrogram of a Newell's Shearwater colliding with a power line (credit Conservation Metrics Inc.)

UMP Bayesian predictive model of island wide power line collisions

Acoustic device recording strike sounds at power pole.

Recording devices require monthly checkups

Getting to some recording devices takes you through difficult terrain

Deploying a recording device could be hard work, but always worth the view!

The energy company assisting installation of an acoustic device at low elevation

Lineman taping the wires to replicate the strike sound

Collision Minimization 


Through visual observations and acoustic monitoring, the project has identified several collision hot spots. Once high-risk sections have been identified, the local power authority has several options to eliminate or reduce the collision, including undergrounding the wires, lowering the wires, or removing the top static wire.  Utilizing UMP data and advice, the power authority has already begun undergrounding wires and removing the static wire in key high-risk locations on Kaua`i.  However, in some circumstances, it is prohibitively expensive to relocate the wires underground.  In these locations, we have been developing and testing alternative solutions. For example, in 2012 we formulated the concept of using several Lasers projected from one pole to the next to produce a “fence” that is visible to birds in complete darkness.  We have been conducting in-house development of solar powered field laser units to achieve this goal. A major component of the UMP is to conduct field experiments to test the minimization efficacy of the lasers and other bird diverter strategies.  

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The laser mitigation fence operational

The laser aiming housing was fully designing and built by the UMP

Diverters mounted on the power lines with the intention of increasing seabird detection of wires at night

Mountain power lines before we identified them as high collision risk

Power lines removed after data definitively showed the wires were high collision risk

Designing the laser system took years of hard work and testing

Light Attraction 


The UMP conducts systematic searches for grounded birds and observer based surveys at major light sources around the island.

To reduce seabird disorientation by artificial light sources, we have begun a collaboration to study the eye physiology of the seabirds. Our goal is to determine the birds visual spectrum, and then develop lights that emit wavelengths focused in the troughs in their visual range.

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At sea experiment testing the relative seabird attraction rate of different street lights.

Once grounded seabirds face many threats including feral cats, dogs, and being hit by cars.

UMP data indicates that 42% of grounded birds end up dying on Kaua'i

Reducing light pollution, particularly near the coast, is needed to reduce the rate of seabird grounding

Radar Passage Rate


Radar systems are used to understand the passage rate of endangered seabirds flying on and off the island.  On a given night, radar allow us to quantify bird passage rates on a much larger scale then when using observers. The UMP utilizes two types of radar systems, standard marine radar mounted on an SUV and S-band vertical and horizontal combined radar.   

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Radar surveys are conducted at a number of different locations all around Kauai.

The MERLIN radar is another type of radar used to monitor endangered seabirds

The monitor displays seabirds flying by the radar survey area

Radar clutter map overlay on satellite image helps determine where the seabirds are flying