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Are mobile phones killing birds?

In May 2018, the EU-funded review body conducted analysis of 97 studies. It concluded that radiation from mobile phone towers, WiFi and broadcast transmitters is a potential risk to insect and bird orientation. The magnetic orientation of birds, mammals and insects could be disrupted by electromagnetic magnetic fields (EMFs).

The authors of the review have emphasised the need to enhance our knowledge of EMFs and their impact on wildlife. 237 scientists have now appealed to the United Nations, asking for the risks posed by them to be taken more seriously.

Electromagnetic fields produce radiation and airborne species are at greater risk of being exposed to this. In addition, birds’ feathers act as receptors of electromagnetic radiation. Studies have suggested that this radiation may cause psychological stress and reduce birds’ ability to recover from such stress. Radiation could also be causing physiological issues including mutated embryos.

When exposed to the radiation, birds receive a small electric shock that can impact their flight and navigation. Birds utilise magnetic navigation to travel and so contrasting magnetic fields present in the atmosphere can leave them disoriented.

Reproductive and co-ordination issues attributed to EMFs have been seen in birds together with aggressive behaviour. Bird populations have been diminishing in or disappearing from areas contaminated with electromagnetic waves arising from cell phones. However, there is as yet no scientific proof that electromagnetic radiation is to blame for the falling populations as other factors in the affected areas could be at fault.

EMR has also been linked to the loss of bees and particularly with a phenomenon known as ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD). This occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly just disappear. It is believed that radiation from mobile phones prevents the bees from finding their way home.

In India, concerns have been expressed over the declining number of house sparrows in cities. Some scientists believe that the bird’s dwindling numbers are the result of increasing mobile phone use while others claim that there is no scientific basis for this argument and that pigeons appear to be thriving. However, some studies have demonstrated that as mobile phone use increases in an area, sparrow populations do decline.

It should be considered that increases in mobile phone use reflect wider changes in society which may also be impacting avian species. Phone use is indicative of greater prosperity which tends to lead to urban development, widespread construction and increased pollution, all factors which would impact birds.

A 2011 report highlighted the need for more research into the effects of EMF radiation and its impact on wildlife. It suggested that EMF should be considered to be a pollutant.

The plot thickens!

There is no doubt that concerns over EMFs are growing. As mobile phone use continues to expand, any problems caused by the radiation will increase. It is unlikely that phone use can be stopped in its tracks, but it is important to understand the dangers of EMFs to wildlife and to begin research into what could be done to mitigate these.


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