Migrating Birds and Power Lines–What Can Be Done?

While it’s important for electrical companies to deliver power to the homes and businesses that rely on it, one unfortunate side effect is the great harm caused to migratory birds and birds of prey who mistake utility poles and crossarms as opportune places for nesting or perching.

In this article we’re going to explore the current issues surrounding bird electrocution from transmission and distribution equipment, and introduce strategies for reducing the number of avian deaths caused by electrical structures.

Electrocution from Nesting, Perching and Flight Collisions

It’s estimated by researchers that millions of migratory birds of prey including Bald eagles, Golden eagles, owls, hawks and others die every year as a result of electrocution from interaction with electrical equipment.

Electrocution occurs when large birds like eagles come into contact with the energized wires on the crossarms of a power pole or by colliding with power lines during flight, and dying from the extreme voltage.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it’s illegal for anyone, companies included, to kill a protected species of bird without first obtaining a permit. If the environmental hazard isn’t enough of a wakeup call to make changes, the legal ramifications also put utility companies at risk for punishment by the law.

However, the good news is that there are cost-effective, simple modifications to power line construction standards that can both protect birds from harm and protect utility companies from legal penalties.

Additionally, companies like DIS-TRAN Overhead Solutions are testing equipment and creating strategies to reduce the number or electrocution-related deaths to birds as a result from interactions with electrical equipment.

Developing a Protection Plan

As leaders across all phases of the electrical utilities industry and affiliated industries begin sharing information and implementation of technology with each other, efforts across the board have the opportunity to make a positive impact and reduce bird electrocutions.

Bird-safe standards at all phases of electrical development and construction include retrofitting of power poles and replacement of older, more threatening equipment.

One recommendation is to construct power poles and wire-carrying equipment with safe distances between energized wires or between energized and grounded electrical parts that would protect perched birds with large wingspans. Where distances between wires cannot be increased, perch guards can be installed on crossarms to keep birds from perching on risky spaces of the crossarms.

Another recommendation suggests covering the hardware that supports conductor and transformer parts with insulation that will protect the equipment and reduce the risk of electrocution to birds who come near equipment or land on it.

Equipment is only part of the plan for reducing harm to birds. It’s up to utility companies to develop and implement full-fledged protection plans that include bird-friendly power lines, and conduct research to identify and ultimately eliminate dangerous lines and structures in use.

In light of the growing issues with bird electrocutions, DIS-TRAN Overhead Solutions has opened up its products to tests to determine opportunities to make products safer for migratory birds.

DIS-TRAN Overhead Solutions recently completed testing on the UltravexR composite crossarm, and the results indicated that birds were less likely to perch on the composite arm than on the wood arm.

Test results from studies similar to the research conducted give utility companies a clear picture of which products are better suited for making their transmission and distribution structures more friendly to wildlife.

Reducing Bird Mortalities and Environmental Harm

Retrofitting and modernizing electrical systems with safer, more insulated equipment like the UltravexR composite crossarm are good first steps to addressing and reducing issues with bird electrocutions.

By combining these readily available measures with methods posed by new research, electrical distribution and transmission systems can be more avian-friendly.

By working together instead of independently of one another, federal, state and local governments, utility companies, conservationists and academic researchers can discover and develop effective solutions that will reduce the environmental harm caused by bird electrocution–not just in the next decade but in the century to come.


For more information about the environmental safety of our crossarm and utility products, the UltravexR Crossarm or how DIS-TRAN Overhead Solutions can apply environmental safety design to your infrastructure that takes wildlife into consideration, fill out the form on our contact page.