Dec 122010

Death by electrocution is the primary cause of death of the Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata). (Credit: Image courtesy of Universidad de Barcelona)

Solutions to a Global Problem

Electrocution on power lines is a major threat to many bird species across the world, in particular endangered species such birds of prey, which show the greatest incidence of electrocution. The study is published in the American Journal of Wildlife Management by the University of Barcelona’s Conservation Biology Group, which is directed by Joan Real of the Department of Animal Biology. It focuses on preventing bird electrocution through the identification and correction of high-risk pylons.

Bird death by electrocution is a global problem that has been aggravated by increases in the energy demand of certain regions and is particularly prevalent in natural areas where the introduction of power lines is a cause of significant disruption to local species. In Catalonia, electrocution is the primary cause of death of the Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata), and across the rest of the Iberian Peninsula it affects particularly large numbers of the endangered Iberian Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) and many other ecologically valuable species. In the United States, the problem has a particular impact on the highly symbolic Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). In Africa, common victims include the Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus).

Electrocution: Threats and solutions

Electrocution occurs when a bird comes into contact with two wires or when it perches on a conductive pylon (for example, a metal structure) and comes into simultaneous contact with a wire. In Catalonia, there are more than 1000 different models of electricity pylons, which pose different levels of threat to birds. The article published in the Journal of Wildlife Managementconfirms the validity of the predictive model designed by the UB research group to determine the risk of electrocution according to pylon design and location, as well as verifying the effectiveness of corrective measures implemented at electrocution blackspots.

Joan Real explains that, “The threat posed by a pylon depends on the electrotechnical design and the natural features around it. If we apply the predictive model we can correct power lines more effectively without having to apply measures to entire spans of the transmission network.” The model makes it possible to select and act on the most dangerous pylons and correct them effectively. According to Joan Real, applying correction measures “to only 6% of the most dangerous pylons could reduce bird mortality by up to 70%.”

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