Power Line Collisions and Electrocutions

power lines


The Problem

Millions of birds, including Bald and Golden Eagles, owls, and hawks are thought to die each year as a result of power line interactions. Some birds die as a result of direct collisions with the lines, which can be virtually invisible, particularly in poor weather, while the large wingspan of other birds can bridge the gap between two lines or a line and a pole, resulting in deadly electrocutions. The recent increase in wind farm construction is leading to a new network of high transmission lines, some of which are being routed through key bird habitat and migration corridors. Potential threats to the endangered Whooping Crane are of particular growing concern.


The Solution

Fortunately solutions do exist, and power companies have become increasingly willing to implement these, as a single avian electrocution incident can disrupt electricity service for thousands of customers at a time. Moreover, in a landmark case in 1999, the Moon Lake Electric Association of Colorado was ordered to pay $100,000 in fines and restitution, and mandated to retrofit their lines with bird-safety devices after being found guilty of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. This case raised awareness of the electrocution issue and sent a strong message to utilities: the MBTA is violated if bird deaths were foreseeable, even if unintentional. In practice, however, prosecution of every electrocution or collision is impractical, and retrofitting every pole and line in the nation to be bird-safe is deemed too expensive by the utility industry.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has produced a 30 minute video entitled ‘Raptors at Risk’, explaining the electrocution problem and federal laws that protect birds while providing practical information on retrofitting existing power lines and installing new equipment to prevent bird deaths. These measures include visual markers such as colored spheres, spinning disks, and streamers that reduce the likelihood of collisions, and spacers, insulating sheaths, and wider separation between lines to decreases electrocution rates.


Voluntary guidelines for the siting and construction of power lines have been drawn up by FWS to help prevent power line mortality. In 2005, an agreement was signed between FWS and Edison Electric Institute’s Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC). Under the agreement, utility companies are encouraged to develop Avian Protection Plans that conform with the new voluntary guidelines. This agreement is significant because APLIC includes among its members the massive Edison Electric Institute (representing the nation’s investor-owned electric utilities), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (which represents nearly 1,000 consumer-owned electric utilities), 23 individual electric utilities, two federal utility agencies, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the Rural Utilities Service.


What You Can Do

Write to your power company and ask them if they are conforming to the voluntary federal guidelines, and what they are doing to reduce avian elecrocutions and collisions at power lines.


Further Resources


Avian Protection Plan Guidelines

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Division of Habitat and Resource Conservation