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Why Don’t Birds and Squirrels Get Electrocuted on Power Lines?

Why Don’t Birds Setting on Power Lines Get Electrocuted?

We mentioned many times that electricity is our best friend as well as a worst enemy. If you give it a chance to kill you, remember that it will never disappoint you. It means, only sparkies and professional electrical engineers can play even with naked wires who know very well how to control and manage our friend/enemy (electricity). But my friend,  what about birds setting and squirrels running on the live power lines carrying high voltage levels? Lets see below how does this happen?

Birds and Squirrels on Power Lines

If you have ever seen (I bet you have seen before) a squirrel running or birds setting on live wires. It shows that they are not getting electrocuted by electricity due to some reasons. Let’s explain these reasons in detail as follows.
Why Don't Birds and Squirrels Get Electrocuted on Power Lines

Birds and Squirrels are not Good Conductors

Well, We know that electricity is too lazy like us (except me) and they find the easiest and short path with little resistance as compared to high resistance.

Electricity always flows from high level to the low level (same like water). Firstly, they find the easiest way (like a short conductor with parallel of a high resistance) to flow. Same as it flows from the live (Line) to the neutral (ground level of voltage is zero). In short, electricity flows when there is a potential difference between two points.

Squirrel running on power line without being electrocuted

Now, when a bird sets on the live wire, his body has some resistance i.e. it acts like an insulator and there is already a short path (as copper wire) for current to flow through it. (As shown in below fig). This way, birds and squirrels don’t get electric shock because current doesn’t flow through their bodies due to the same voltage level i.e. there is no potential difference. So the current will bypass their bodies as there is a short path with very less resistance (in case of copper wire). In this case, the current flow is shown in fig (c) (green line). 

Why dont Birds get electrocuted when sitting on power lines

Does this Role Apply to the Human Body?

Same as the case for human beings. If someone touches the live wire (Line) while he is not touching the ground (even on chairs, ladders etc), He will not get electrocuted unless they touch the ground wire or another wire that has a different voltage level. This way, there will be a potential difference due to different levels of voltages, so current will start to flow through it, the same like loads connected in parallel circuits. the “Human body is not a good conductor” will not apply then as it is acting as a “load” where current will flow through it. So be afraid, be very afraid and don’t try this at home.

If you wanna see live examples, birds setting and squirrels running on the lines are live examples. In addition, this is how the lineman are working on the live lines from the helicopter while they are in air (which is a good insulator) but before maintenance or repairing, they use a rod to equalize the line voltage to the helicopter potential.

For low voltages, the impedance (Z) is too high which won’t be able to make an arc to the birds through the air. But in case of very high voltage, if a bird with different potential level is set on the lines, It will electrocute the bird the same as arc flashing to the rod in case of a helicopter.

When Birds Electrocuted on Power Lines?

As explained above, when the birds or squirrels on line make a direct contact with another wire having different levels of voltage or ground wire (having zero voltage) at the same time. This difference of voltage levels causes the flow of current through the birds between two conductors. 

This also applies to living things including human beings. In this case, the circuit is completed and current will flow through their bodies and they may get electrocuted even if they can die.

Below are some images showing how to protect the bird’s lives while sitting on power lines.  

Bird Proofing Transmission Lines, did you know
Bird Proofing Transmission Lines, did you know
Bird Protection Russian solutions
Bird Protection Russian solutions
Insulated Cover over insulator to save birds from getting shocked
Insulated Cover over insulator to save birds from getting shocked

Be afraid, Be very Afraid, Don’t Try this at Home.

As mentioned above, please don’t play with electricity. Now you also know that you may touch the Live (Line) wire while being in the air and not touching the ground or any other object like chair, ladder, wall etc., You are safe. But don’t give it a try as we have shown some examples like birds setting on the power lines, lineman working on the live power lines from the helicopter. Stay safe.

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