Why Don’t Birds Get Electrocuted on Powerlines?

Shows two birds sitting directly on a copper power line to illustrate that they don't get electrocuted
Shows birds sitting on powerlines to illustrate that they don't get electrocuted

How often have you seen a string of birds on a power line and wondered how come they don’t get electrocuted? We first have to understand power and electricity if we want to know how birds can sit on high-power voltage cables as though it was a laundry line.

Power is complicated and mysterious. We can’t see it and we can’t hear it, but if we touch it we get an electric shock and we feel that all too well.

Electricity comes from electrons. We find electrons everywhere. They surround the nucleus of every atom. Electrons flow freely around the nucleus without any resistance, or they are led towards the poles in electromagnetic fields. This movement creates energy which we call electricity. The force of the movement is called voltage.

Some materials called conductors are well-suited to lead electricity. Other materials prevent the flow. Electrons meet no resistance in copper, and it is, therefore, an ideal conductor. This is why power lines are made of copper. The power flows easily between the poles.

A bird is no good conductor. The electrons meet more resistance in the bird’s body than in the copper power line. As long as the bird sits nice and quiet, there isn’t any difference in the voltage that the electrons want to move through. The bird sits in the electromagnetic field that is created by the power, and the electrons stay put inside the power line.

Shows two birds sitting directly on a copper power line to illustrate that they don't get electrocuted

Why Don’t Birds Get Electrocuted on Powerlines?

The ground has little to no electromagnetic tension. The bird would get a proper electric shock if it touched the ground and the power line at the same time. The difference in electric potential between the ground and the power line would cause the power to go towards the ground, and to get there it would have to go through the bird.

The same thing happens if a bird, person or something else that can lead power touches two power lines at the same time. The difference in electric potential makes the electrons move from the line with the highest voltage to the one with the lowest. To do so, it would have to pass through the bird or person. Electric shocks are uncomfortable. Strong electric shocks can be life-threatening!

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