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Techniques used by scientists to track bird migration have barely changed in a century, usually relying on direct observation along important routes.
There are clear limitations to this kind of research and the margins of error are those related to visibility.

Today, technology is changing the way birds are studied as we try to understand how biodiversity is being affected, for example, by climate change.
While GPS tracking devices can be fixed to individual animals to map movements, radar is being rapidly deployed to gather information on a vast scale about birds, bats and insects.
Radars have the advantage of capturing precise movements day and night, in all weather conditions. When coupled with software to analyse big data sets – and even artificial intelligence to automate the recognition of species – this technology can provide powerful new insights.

Discover data on bird migration over Strait of Messina.

Video Interview

Use of radars to monitor avian migrations is growing worldwide: Terna is among the pioneers with a cutting edge project in the Strait of Messina between mainland Italy and Sicily. Over three years, we tracked the passage of more than 100,000 birds at this key route connecting Africa to Europe. We’re now making this valuable database available to scientists

Sharing data for scientific research

We are now making the mass of data gathered through the project available online for researchers and bird enthusiasts.
It’s part of our “open” approach to data, sharing information and resources we collect as part of our work, much of which is valuable for scientific research.
Sharing undersea video footage may be next.

“Monitoring results are amazing. Data quality and quantity are unique for such a peculiar place. This experience a leverage effect for radar ornithology,” said Nicoletta Rivabene, head of Terna’s environmental engineering unit in Rome. “The practice of using radar is taking off now after people got to learn about our experience”.

This innovative project typifies our approach to sustainability and infrastructure investments: taking account of the needs of the local community and environment in planning new projects is vital for us - considering we currently have 213 active construction sites nationwide, work costing 1.66 billion euros and involving almost 400 contractors and sub-contractors.

Did you know?
Twice a year, hundreds of thousands of birds of prey, stork and other species fly over the Strait of Messina, one of three main migration routes between Africa and northern Europe. The most common species birdwatchers see along the route are:
  • Honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
  • Western marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
  • Black kite (Milvus migrans)
  • Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
  • Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

Why biodiversity matters for us

Biodiversity is one of our main environmental issues, mostly because of the impact power lines might have on birds.

  • There is a potential risk of birds colliding with earth wire but transmission lines also help provide vegetation step stones on a diffuse agricultural matrix, which is a boon for biodiversity
  • Problems can arise because, in some lighting conditions, birds can struggle to see ground wires, without diverters, above the thicker, and more visible transmission cables
  • We collaborate with environmental associations in order to assess the impact of overhead lines and find ways to study and mitigate possible impacts
  • An Avian Team has been set up and its members are part of local operational areas, meaning they are on-the-ground to resolve problems electric lines may cause birds, respect national and international regulation and liaise with environmental associations

Combating poaching with power infrastructure

The Sorgente–Rizziconi connector between Sicily and the Italian mainland isn’t only of interest for its innovative use of radar. In terms of biodiversity, Terna is using the site to help combat poaching too. Sadly, the area is a destination not only for birdwatchers but also poachers. It has been defended by volunteers from conservation association LIPU since 1984, helping reduce illegal bird killings to about 200 a year.

We are joining the effort. We are installing cameras on transmission pylons to film migration and fitting the equipment with an added capability: if it detects gunfire, the camera automatically focuses in on the area where the shot came from and sends encrypted stills and video to law enforcement officers. With the future integration of artificial intelligence, software will be able to learn from birdwatchers to recognise different species, helping to catalogue migrations automatically.