Pokhran’s ‘firefly bird diverters’ shine to save the Great Indian Bustard.

Flaps placed on power lines can protect the critically threatened large bird species from mortal collision

The Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) along with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India has come up with a unique initiative — a “firefly bird diverter” for overhead power lines in areas where Great Indian Bustard (GIB) populations are found in the wild. GIB is one of the most critically threatened species in India, with less than 150 birds left in the wild.


A report by the Ministry, submitted to the National Green Tribunal in 2019, pointed out that power lines, especially high-voltage transmission lines with multiple overhead wires, are the most important current threat for GIBs in the Thar region, and are causing unsustainably high mortality in about 15% of their population.

“Firefly bird diverters are flaps installed on power lines. They work as reflectors for bird species like the GIB. Birds can spot them from a distance of about 50 meters and change their path of flight to avoid collision with power lines. Smaller birds can change their direction [swiftly] but for larger bird species, it is difficult because their body weight and other factors,” Anil Kumar, team leader of the GIB project undertaken by WCS India, told The Hindu.

The firefly detectors have been installed along two stretches of approximately 6.5 km, selected between Chacha to Dholiya villages in the Pokhran tehsil after ground surveys and due consultations with the Rajasthan Forest Department. A total of 1,813 firefly bird diverters are being installed in this stretch — a model that has been endorsed by experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Bustard Specialist Group.

The diverters are called fireflies because they look like fireflies from a distance, shining on power lines in the night. The selected stretch is opposite the Pokhran Field Firing Range, which offers a safe habitat to a breeding population of GIBs outside the Desert National Park Sanctuary in Jaisalmer.

Kapil Chandrwal, Deputy Conservator of Forest, Desert National Park Sanctuary, said that high-tension wires being a reason for GIB mortality had been proven by different studies. “GIBs are one of the heaviest flying birds in India. Therefore, when they encounter these wires, they are unable to change the direction of their flight. Death is most cases is due to impact with the wires and not due to electrocution,” Mr. Chandrwal added. The diverter will not only save GIB but other species of large birds, including migratory birds.

The Supreme Court of India, in a recent hearing, directed that power lines in GIB landscapes should be placed underground. Experts said that the innovative firefly diverter installation could serve as an alternative means to species conservation. Experts say only two districts in Rajasthan — Jaisalmer and Barmer — have a breeding GIB population in the wild. The bird can also be found in very small numbers in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

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