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Hastings bridge to be used in bird study

The Hastings bridge is being used in a bird study with the National Park Service. A radar was set up at Jaycee Park to track birds as they migrate. Michelle Wirth / RiverTown Multimedia

The Hastings bridge is one of three bridges being used to study the impact bridges along the Mississippi River may have on migrating birds. On April 24, a small-scale avian radar was set up at Jaycee Park in Hastings that will track birds as they migrate during spring 2017.

The National Park Service is collaborating with Fordham University to conduct the study. When the Hastings bridge was initially built, there was money set aside for a study to be done. It was transferred to the National Park Service and they sent out a call for proposals. Alan Clark, a professor in the department of biological sciences, proposed the study being conducted this spring.

"(The Hastings bridge) is the bridge that allowed this study, which is the first of its kind as far as we know of ever (being) done anywhere in the world," Clark said.

The radar at Jaycee Park will collect data for 10 days. It will then move to other bridges that are part of the study.

The study will also be conducted on the Interstate 494 bridge where I-494 crosses the Mississippi River and the Washington Avenue bridge connecting the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. The three bridges were chosen for factors including height, lighting and orientation.

Clark said that most birds migrate at night and for unknown reasons, they are drawn to artificial light sources like a magnet. They tend to be drawn to the yellow and red parts of the spectrum. The number two cause of bird deaths in North America is due to birds dying from hitting human made structures.

"It's sort of an ecological disaster," Clark said.

It is known that collisions with tall buildings, communication towers or oil rigs have a negative impact on migrating birds at night, but Clark said that not much is known about the impact of bridges.

Clark said that he is not too worried about the Hastings bridge being problematic because the lighting is low, it is downward facing light and the bridge isn't that high. He said that the I-494 bridge has potential to be a problem because it runs east to west, but he doesn't think it will be with the downward facing lights. The Washington Avenue bridge is one that he thinks will be problematic because it is high, has a glass pedestrian bridge and is very well lit.

After the data has been collected, Clark said that they will be able to tell if bridges are problematic to the migration of birds. If bridges are problematic, there are some things that might be able to help. Some ways to minimize hazards that bridges could have on migratory birds is changing the lighting, angle of lights or use of pulsing lights.

"Maybe there are some things we can do, but you don't know what to do until you know what problems, if any exist," Clark said.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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