Wednesday, July 09, 2014

EWOT's Electrocution

Yesterday at about 10:45, Decorah fledgling EWOT was electrocuted on a high voltage power line roughly ½ mile from the mulch pile that both fledglings have been spending most of their time on. It was reported to us late in the afternoon. We collected and examined him, returning to the site of the electrocution to gather more information once that was done. Here is what we know.

The line was a 96 Kilovolt transmission line owned by ITC Holdings (http://www.itc-holdings.com/). In general, electrical delivery can be divided into two types: transmission and distribution. High-voltage transmission lines carry electricity over long distances from power plants or grids to substations. The poles or towers are physically larger and taller than those that support lower-voltage distribution lines and don’t support anything except electrical lines. Distribution lines carry electricity from substations to consumers and are supported by what most of us probably think of as utility or power poles. Utility poles are often made of wood and, unlike transmission lines, may also carry telephone and cable wires or support street lights.

ITC is able to detect fluctuations and other anomalies on their lines. When they sensed an anomaly, they sent a field technician out to investigate. He found and collected EWOT, and turned him over to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. They saw the transmitter and called Bob to let him know that an eaglet had been electrocuted.

When we first got word of another electrocuted eaglet, we assumed it had contacted a standard utility pole. According to Refining Estimates of Bird Collision and Electrocution Mortality at Power Lines in the United States, electrocutions occur primarily at distribution lines, while collisions occur at both distribution and transmission lines. That’s certainly been our experience, since every eagle we’ve picked up has been found at the base of a distribution line. I pictured a standard wooden utility pole as we glumly drove over for our field investigation. I was surprised to instead find a high-power line between a field and a hill. We hiked out and took a look at the scene. We weren’t able to find scorch or singe marks on the pole or insulators, and the eaglet’s body was not at the base of the pole, as we’ve seen elsewhere, but under the lines three to four feet from the pole.

An examination of the eaglet’s body revealed singeing and burning around his elbow and feet. Electrocution can’t happen unless a bird’s body creates a circuit between ground and voltage, or different voltage phases, allowing energy to flow from high to low. Sitting on a wire won’t harm a bird, since it doesn’t create a circuit. But he closed a circuit with his wing and one foot, creating the flow that killed him.

In addition to singeing, the eaglet’s wing had extensive tissue damage and some severing. Although it seemed unlikely, we needed to know whether the transmitter had somehow created or closed the circuit that led to his electrocution. A quick look at the transmitter showed no damage, scorching, or discoloring. We cut the straps and removed it from EWOT’s body. The straps were intact and there was no scorching, singeing, or burning under the straps or backpack pad. Finally, we made sure the receiver could detect the transmitter. The transmitter was functioning normally, so we concluded it hadn’t been part of our eaglet’s electrocution.

Bob contacted ITC this morning. The biologist he spoke with told him that they hadn’t seen an electrocution on a high kilovolt line in the three years he’d worked for ITC. Having said that, they reported the electrocution to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee, and they are assessing steps that can be taken to prevent another electrocution or collision.

What we think
The pole was up to code and we haven’t had any problems at a transmission line before, so we suspect the electrocution was a terrible accident. Other electrocutions and near-misses in Decorah involved distribution poles with wonderful perching spots near the hatchery, where the eagles regularly hunt, fly, and hang out.  The transmission pole provides a bad perching spot overlooking a poor hunting ground bordered by trees. Although electrocution was clearly the cause of death, we suspect that EWOT might have collided with a wire and dropped, contacting other wires or the pole before dropping to the ground. Death was very quick.

Where do we go from here?
We don’t know whether ITC will install diverters or a similar non-collision technology over one death. Companies tend to set priorities based in large part on collisions, electrocutions, and known migration/movement paths. Reporting is key and we are very glad the company didn’t choose to sweep the electrocution under the rug.  
Bob talked to ITC this morning. If there are any more deaths, the company will report them to us, the DNR, and the USFWS.  Neither D1, D14, or Four have spent any time near the high voltage line, but if Four or D1 start hanging out, we’ll make ITC and everyone else aware of it.

Why can’t you build safe perches?
Alliant Energy, the D12 Memorial Group, the Decorah High School, and Decorah Building supply were able to make the distribution poles at the hatchery safer through insulation and safe perches. However, we’re not sure this was a perching problem and we can’t encourage perching on high voltage transmission lines since they are too dangerous. If protection is installed, it will probably be in the form of diverters that make it easy for birds, including eagles, to see the power lines.

What can we do?
Our wonderful fans want to know what they can do to make power lines safe. A few suggestions:
  • ·      Does your power company have an Avian Protection Plan? Click here for more information: http://www.aplic.org/APPs.php. Birds aren’t the only issue, either – my electrical cooperative is upgrading equipment because of squirrels! Talk to your company and find out what they have in place.
  • ·       Report electrocuted animals to your power company and wildlife agency. If your power company shrugs it off, document the problem and talk to your state’s regulatory agency. It’s my experience that most utility companies are very responsive to electrocutions. They kill animals, destroy equipment, can start fires, and are expensive.
  • ·      Learn more about the issue. A few good places to start:

While we can’t protect transmission lines with safe perches, most of our electrocutions have been on distribution lines. This seems like a good time to share the story of the D12 Memorial Group’s work with making distribution poles safer. 
We are really dismayed by the electrocution of another eagle but believe we can do better in the future. We’ll continue working with power companies to improve outcomes for birds of prey and we’ll certainly let you know what happens here. In the meantime, please feel free to share your stories of improvement and recovery with us. 

35 comments:

final4kc said...

Excellent post, thank you. I'm so sorry for the loss.

Jane Luxem said...

Thank you for the information.

IdahoRoseLady said...

Appreciate the info an explanation. Still heart broken.

Traci Mengle said...

This knowledge and understanding helps all of us accept "our" huge loss. Let us, "the Decorah Eagle Fans" begin to make a difference by calling upon our power companies to get educated. As always, thank you RRP.

Martha Allen said...

Thank you for this detailed information. I am going to call my electric company in the morning. Blessing to all of you that work so hard to save our feathered friends.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the information, some answers, and education. As always everything a learning experience and you put it into laymans terms and tell us how we can help. Ever sin I have followed this group I am amazed but the professionalism of the volunteers and staff

Joan said...

Thank you for this post. It helps to understand what could have happened.

Kathie said...

A wonderful and informative post. Thank you for taking the time to let us know the facts. I really appreciate your dedication to the eaglets, but also to all of us out "here" who watch every move and hang on every word. We have all learned so much about these beloved eagles that a few short years ago I knew nothing, except it is our National bird. I thank you for allowing us this amazing look at nature, the good and the not so good!

Lois Hanson said...

Disheartened to hear about the electrocution of another eagle. It is good to know however that power companies are concerned and taking steps to help prevent these tragedies in the future.

Lois Hanson said...

Disheartened to hear about the electrocution of another eagle. It is good to know however that power companies are concerned and taking steps to help prevent these tragedies in the future.

Donna Stark said...

Breaks my heart :(

Gerry Rasmussen said...

Thank you for the information it is nice to know how it happened and what we (all of us) can do to help all the bigger birds.

Thanks to all who work for this project, we have the greatest Mods and Bob A is a wonder! Thanks to all of you.

Vancellen Sturgeon said...

I believe in survival of the fittest but when human technology and progress get in the way of nature, it hurts my soul. Everyone gives so much of their lives and time to help make sure humans don't get in the way and cause unnecessary demise of these great birds and other animals. Truly sad for the loss.

topfuziel said...

Thanks for the most informative post about this very sad event. Glad to know the power company is involved and doesn't want to ignore the situation. So sad.....

Linda Lawson said...

Thank you so much for such a detailed explanation of what happened to our poor little D18. I am so sad about this and I send my deepest condolences to Bob and all involved with the Decorah Eagles. RIP D18 and fly high and free.

Charwv said...

Thank you for the update of your findings in this magnificent eaglet's death. Such a sad, sad story. I only hope that the knowledge gained here results in the power companies making the necessary changes so that other precious raptors and wildlife are not subjected to electrocution as was this sweet eaglet! Such a terrible loss! Rest in Peace EWOT! We miss you!

Joan Schnabel said...

Here's something you can do in memory of the eaglets. USFWS has a comment period until Aug 10 regarding the use of lead ammo on the upper mississippi refuge. They recently published a study which showed that out of 168 dead bald eagles, lead levels were found in 48% and 21% had levels that were considered toxic. They also X-rayed gut piles and found that 36% of the gut piles had lead fragments. So please please take a minute and send them an email asking them to ban all lead ammo from the refuge. send to

UpperMississippiRiver@fws.gov


this does not change anyone's right to hunt on the refuge, hunting season, etc, just the ammo



here's a link to the article http://www.fws.gov/midwest/InsideR3/March14Story14.htm
and SOARs website has excellent info as well (SOAR is temporary home to eaglet with wing fracture) thanks for your help with this. Joan Schnabel

Karen said...

We really appreciate this explanation and the information in the article. It's good to know electric companies care and try to do the right thing.

Nora H said...

Thank you so much Amy, lots of good info here. I'm sorry about D18. :(

Barbara Eisele said...

I am so impressed and inspired by the detail with which you have investigated this unfortunate death of what we believe to be D18. You are an inspiration to all of us to take this to our own local level to afford protection of other animals and birds. Thank you for all you are doing. Sending you much love for the loss you must feel for this precious eaglet.

Paulding Peach said...
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andiebiz af said...

Thanks Amy, information provides us all with a way to deal with a tragedy. We can find a sense of peace knowing we can do something about it - we can help provide a better future.

Chris Montana said...

Would it ever be possible to invent something to put on the eagle's transmitter that sets off some type of alarm that would deter the bird from going near dangerous power lines?

So sad, but hopefully ewot s accident will be a learning tool and future eaglets will not have this danger.

David Lawson said...

Amy, Thank you for providing this followup analysis. This is a terrible accident and loss for the RRP and the Decorah observers/fans. I admire Bob Anderson's, your and RRP's achievements in restoring falcons and eagles. You are also educating and engaging thousands of people. You have my sympathy for your loss.

David Lawson said...

Amy, Thank you for providing this followup analysis. This is a terrible accident and loss for the RRP and the Decorah observers/fans. I admire Bob Anderson's, your and RRP's achievements in restoring falcons and eagles. You are also educating and engaging thousands of people. You have my sympathy for your loss.

Dragonez said...

Thank you for such a detailed explanation! My earlier comment on an early post, I regret now. (I said Iowa should be ashamed of not having all the power poles raptor protected). Please forgive me.

Itsme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kansas Teacher said...

I can't help but think that many, many large birds die because of electrocution and aren't followed by thousands of fans. Who die alone with no notice. Rather than causing the tragic event, seems that transmitted birds who are electrocuted can help we humans understand better how these deaths occur, and help to come to better solutions for all large birds and animals in general. I have such admiration for you folks at RRP, for all you are doing to bring good from this loss. Thanks for taking the time to post this information for us Amy!

Kansas Teacher said...

I can't help but think that many, many large birds die because of electrocution and aren't followed by thousands of fans. Who die alone with no notice. Rather than causing the tragic event, seems that transmitted birds who are electrocuted can help we humans understand better how these deaths occur, and help to come to better solutions for all large birds and animals in general. I have such admiration for you folks at RRP, for all you are doing to bring good from this loss. Thanks for taking the time to post this information for us Amy!

melrose98 said...

I watched D18 from an egg to the beautiful juvenile he became. I'm so sad his life was cut short. I hope his death will not be in vain, but will lead us to correct the situation that took his life so no other birds will be harmed. Thank you RRP for your caring dedication.

freebird said...

So sad...watched from egg hatch to fledging and on and was happy to see how they were adapting after such a difficult winter and all. D18 seemed to have a lot of spirit and it's sad to think his life was cut short. Praying for D19, who is maybe wondering where it's sibling is. :( They were getting along so beautifully. Thank you for this very informative post and hope that there is something more that can be done to keep our birds safe. RIP D18 and thank you for the joy you brought to all your eagle watching friends.

GailJM said...

So very sorry for the loss of D18. I too am weeping with all Decotah fans and followers. Thank you Amy and Bob and all of you who care and share this incredible experience. I hope and pray that good comes from this tragedy. Blessings to all.

Nancy said...

Just sobbed when I read about D18 watching him survive and thrive from egg to fledge. My "home" nest is Hays/Pittsburgh and this is my 1st year watching/learning and came over to Decorah to learn from the best. Thank-you for this information, it does help "accept" D18's death a bit more to have information. I didn't realize I would get so attached. Heart-broken from Hays.

Joni Perri said...

So sorry for your loss.

Rest in peace in Saint Frencis' loving arms D18 (EWOT).

Peace and love to all.
Joni Perri5

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