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January 1, 1999

Power lines and power poles present a potential electrocution hazard to wild birds. Many birds, especially raptors, select power poles for perching, and, sometimes, for nesting (Figs. 50.1–3). If a bird’s appendages bridge the gap between two energized parts or between an energized and a grounded metal part, electricity flows through the “bridge” that is filling the gap and the bird is electrocuted.

Most commonly, birds are electrocuted where conducting wires (conductors) are placed closer together than the wingspan of birds that frequent the poles (Fig. 50.2). Feathers are poor electrical conductors, but if contact is made between points on the skin, talons, or beak, or if the feathers are wet, conduction can occur. Common anatomical sites of contact include conduction between the wrists of each wing or between the skin of one wing and a foot or leg. The resulting shock causes severe, usually fatal, cardiovascular injury.

Because conductors on distribution lines are placed closer together than high voltage transmission lines, birds are more frequently electrocuted on distribution lines despite their lower voltage.

In addition to one to three conductors, power poles may also carry ground wires, transformers, or grounded metal crossarm braces. Complicated wiring configurations that put multiple energized and grounded metal parts near attractive perching or nesting sites are the most hazardous configurations (Fig. 50.3).

Publication Year 1999
Title Electrocution
Authors N. J. Thomas
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Information and Technology Report
Series Number 1999-0001
Index ID 2001163
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center