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Seattle City Light DEBRA SMITH, General Manager and CEO
Avian Protection Program
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Avian Protection Program

City Light's electrical distribution network includes approximately 120,000 support structures (poles and towers) that have energized conductors (wires), transformers and other equipment. Some of these structures were built as early as the 1920s and about 32,000 of them were built prior to 1985. The older structures were built when little attention was paid to avian protection and thus present an electrocution risk to birds because of inadequate insulation or separation of conductors.

The purpose of Seattle City Light's (City Light) Avian Protection Program (APP) is to minimize bird injuries and mortalities caused by power lines and other electrical equipment. City Light's APP is based on guidelines developed collaboratively between the electrical utility industry and the USFWS with the intent of protecting birds and reducing electrical outages caused by electrocution and collisions. These guidelines are described in documents prepared by the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

City Light's Avian Protection Program has seven main elements:
  1. Tracking and monitoring bird-related power outages and bird mortalities
  2. Assessing and managing nests on utility structures
  3. Taking corrective and preventative measures to reduce conflicts between birds and the electrical system
  4. Assessing the effectiveness of measures aimed at preventing or reducing electrocutions
  5. Training field personnel on appropriate protocols and reporting for outages, identification of protected species, and handling of dead birds and problem nests
  6. Identifying and prioritizing future retrofitting activities through risk assessment in the service area
  7. Coordinating with USFWS on avian issues and compliance
For more information, see City Light's Avian Protection Plan.

Reducing Electrocution Risk

Retrofitting equipment to prevent bird mortalities and avian-caused power outages has resulted in a significant reduction in the overall number of birds inadvertently killed by City Light's electrical distribution network compared to what occurred in the past. As City Light replaces worn out poles and equipment, the new poles are configured according to current avian protection standards. Poles where birds have been electrocuted are retrofitted to prevent re-occurrence of the problems. As a result of these actions, the number of known avian deaths has declined from a high of 602 in 1988 to less than 280 annually since 2007. Crows account for about 90 percent of these events.

Get information of Washington State Wildlife.

Managing Nests on Power Poles

Nests on power poles can present a challenge to utilities because debris falling onto conductors can cause fires and power outages, as well as increase the electrocution risk for the nesting pair or young. Western Washington has numerous large trees, so power poles are less attractive as nest sites than they are in more open areas. Nonetheless, ospreys, crows, pigeons, starlings, woodpeckers, and swallows have all been observed nesting on or in City Light power poles and/or other electrical equipment. In a small number of cases each year, City Light has had to remove nests (always outside of the nesting season or prior to egg-laying) to eliminate the risk of the nest material causing a fire and power outage.

In Seattle, ospreys often select the tops of transmission towers and distribution poles for nest sites. When an osprey nest needs to be removed, City Light typically installs excluders and insulators to prevent ospreys from rebuilding on the power pole and installs a pole with a platform nearby to provide an alternative nesting site.

Osprey building nest on power pole

Alternative osprey nesting platform built by Seattle City Light along Duwamish River

Nest excluder and insulated conductor covers were installed on this pole to reduce the possibility of electrocuting ospreys.

Reducing the Risk of Collision

Bird collisions with power lines can be difficult to detect unless observed or an outage results. It is, for example, likely that the 13 Canada goose mortalities reported to City Light between 2007 and 2013 (Table 2-1) were collisions that resulted in outages. Although waterfowl probably occasionally collide with City Light's power lines over water, there is no evidence to suggest this is a common occurrence. Transmission lines over water are typically above the flight level of most waterfowl that use Seattle's waterways. Within City Light's service territory, many power lines over water are clustered with other wires and/or near bridges or other structures, making them fairly visible even in low-light conditions. And although there are numerous waterfowl within the city limits, feeding areas are usually small and dispersed; large flocks typical of more rural areas are rare.

When mortalities of Canada geese or other waterbirds are reported, City Light investigates the site and, if warranted, installs bird flight diverters to increase the visibility of the lines.

Bird flight diverters increase line visibility

Learn More

To learn more about what Seattle City Light is doing to protect birds, see the following:

Other useful links:

Report a Dead Bird or Injured Wildlife

For more information or to report an active bird nest on a City Light pole or dead or injured wildlife near electrical lines and poles,
please call 206-684-3270 or send an e-mail to: Your help is greatly appreciated.

When filing a report, please include the following information:
  • Date and time
  • Contact name and information
  • Pole or tower identification number (if available)
  • Approximate address (or GPS coordinates), and
  • Description of the issue
  • Species and number of individuals, presence of any nest, condition of the individual(s).

Peregrine falcon on transmission tower near I-5 span over the ship canal

Flicker nesting in a power pole

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