Birds: The No. 2 Cause of Power Outages

April 28, 2017

By Paula Bernier - Executive Editor, TMC

There’s a lot of concern these days about hackers and other bad actors interfering with critical infrastructure. And it is important to protect against and plan for that possibility. But the fact is that it’s not hackers and terrorists that are the biggest threats to the power grid. Rather, it is squirrels and then birds.

Birds are responsible for nearly a quarter of outages in the U.S., according to a December 2015 report by T&D World, an online publication that covers matters relating to the electric power-delivery system.

A bird was blamed for a widespread power outage in Watertown, South Dakota, earlier this week. A bird in a transformer took out power to businesses, including at least one heathcare provider; government departments, including the Watertown Police Department; schools; traffic signals; and residents in the area. Many were without power for about an hour. The outage lasted about two hours for others.

Classes continued for schools within the Watertown School District. But the outage made for an unusually dark and unplugged experience for students and teachers. “Sometimes things like this just remind us of how dependent we have become on internet and technology, but we still had a day of learning,” Superintendent Lesli Jutting was quoted by Watertown Public Opinion as saying.

Sometimes bird-related outages happen when birds fly into power equipment. Cranes, herons, pelicans, and swans – which have heavy bodies, large wingspans, and not as much agility as other birds – are often the culprits. Ducks, which fly in flocks and at low altitudes because of their high flight speed, are also frequently the source of power outages.

But bird-related power outages are not always the result of these animals flying into equipment. Outages can also occur due to bird excrement, nesting, and attracting predators. In fact, bird excrement is such a big problem related to power outages, that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has done entire studies on this topic.

They say you can’t fight Mother Nature. But you can create a backup plan for when she strikes. That includes putting a power protection system in place to avoid damage, loss of data, and to ensure operational continuity at your home, business, or other organization.

Edited by Alicia Young