Why Don’t Birds Get Electrocuted Sitting On Power Lines?

Have you ever wondered how birds can safely sit on power lines without being electrocuted? If you have you’re one of many who remains confused on how they’re able to perch without risk. This article is going to explain just how it’s possible, as well as the myths surrounding it.

Why Can Birds Safely Sit On Power Lines?

Simply put, birds are able to sit on powerlines as both of their feet have equal electrical potential. Due to being equal, this means that the electrons in the wires don’t need to travel through the bird’s body. This lack of travel means zero electrical current and therefore the birds is safe. Yes, that’s the simple version!

The Science Behind Birds Sitting on Power Lines

The description above puts simply the process of how birds remain shockless whilst perched on wires. However, we can dig deeper into the reasoning. The first is a closed loop circuit. Electrons move around a circuit, beginning at a power source and ending once reaching the earth or a neutral source. A bird on a wire doesn’t interrupt this circuit so remains unharmed.

Second is the electrical potential. As mentioned earlier, birds’ feet contain equal electrical potential meaning the electrons don’t flow into the bird, so it remains safe. If, however, the bird was to come into contact with another wire by stretching their wing for example, this would create electrical potential and a voltage would be sent through the bird’s body. As current will always flow from a higher potential to a lower one this is when a shock will occur.

Do Bird Have Rubber Feet?

A common myth about birds is that they have rubber feet which allows them to sit on power lines. However, this isn’t true! Birds’ safety on the lines is nothing to do with their body and birds feet consist of strong bones and tendons – not rubber!

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Why Can Birds Touch Power Lines But Humans Can’t?

The answer is simple – birds aren’t touching the ground! Electrons will always flow to earth to end the circuit, so when humans touch live wires more often than not, they’re touching the ground too therefore electrons flow through the body creating the shock. Birds however aren’t in contact with the ground thus remain out of dangers way. That’s why people who are working in contact with live wires will wear electrical safety shoes, to stop the electrons flowing through them into the ground.

Why Do Birds Die from Power Lines

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Despite being unable to die from perching on the line, they can still be deadly for our feathered friends. Every year it’s estimated tens of millions of birds die from the impact of flying into power lines and die on impact. This cause of death is most common in larger species, as well as those flying at such a speed, they’re unable to stop. This includes Swans, Geese and Birds of Prey such as Kestrels and Buzzards.

Sadly, there’s little to be done to prevent these deaths, however one trial which tested near visible UV lights on the power lines saw collisions reduced by 98% over a 38 night period. [i]. This would be a great addition to power lines near where rare and endangered species of bird’s nest to better protect them from the threat looming above.

So next time you spot a group of birds hanging out on a line you’ll know why they’re safe and can even show off your newfound knowledge to your friends and family! If you care about birds and more about the benefits they offer click here to find out more.


[i] Birds Are Dying from Power-Line Collisions—Now There’s a Solution. Scientific America.

4 thoughts on “Why Don’t Birds Get Electrocuted Sitting On Power Lines?

  1. I think its because their not touching the ground the electricity does not go through them so they don’t die

  2. I think its because their not tuching something that lets the electricity go through them so they no not die
    I’m 10I learned it in class

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