NLI Takes Protecting Birds Seriously

An osprey enjoys the view from a platform near a power pole fitted with a device to protect large birds from contacting wires. Photo by Kristin Mettke

As you drive around, you may notice some Northern Lights, Inc. (NLI) power poles have a white cover on top of the crossarm. This is for avian protection.

NLI implemented an avian protection plan to protect birds from electrocution, and to prevent birds from causing outages and damage or starting fires on poles. In the United States, multiple federal protections, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, protect more than 1,000 species by banning killings, removing nests or eggs, or importing and exporting birds without a federal permit. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act extended similar protections.

Ospreys are one of NLI’s primary species of concern. Ospreys return to the area to nest each spring from their southern winter homes in Central and South America. NLI’s power poles are an attractive spot for them to build a nest near waterways rich with fish for meals.

Nests pose a problem on power poles. The nest may be fine while it is dry, but if the sticks in the nest become wet, they create a path for electricity to flow between the phases, causing an outage. A nest could also start a fire, which would damage NLI poles and could be detrimental to young fledglings.

To deter nesting on poles in areas that have historically had issues, NLI added covers, perch deterrents, and bird guards. You may see what looks like a piece of large white conduit cut in half or other deterrents to keep the birds off the crossarms of NLI poles. In several locations, NLI has installed separate poles or brackets with a nesting platform for ospreys to use. Ospreys have been using the platforms instead of the adjacent power pole.

Line crews need to make sure the platforms get cleaned off in early spring before ospreys return, or geese or other species will make use of the platforms before ospreys get a chance to claim their spot.

Other methods of bird guards are used throughout our system to prevent birds from making contact between two different wires on a pole (phases) or between a phase wire and ground. Guards protect the bird from electrocution and prevent an outage or damage.

NLI uses various types of covers and deterrents. For example, a bald eagle has a wingspan of about 80 inches. Imagine one landing safely on a cross arm between two phases and then spreading its wings to take off. While the feathers provide some level of insulation, if an eagle were to contact the wires with the bone structure in its wings or have damp, conductive feathers, it could be severely injured. NLI has added additional protections in areas where eagles are common.

NLI strives to do its part to protect birds that visit or live in the service area. It is an ongoing and ever-evolving task to find solutions and new products to protect the avian species in our area.

As you drive around the area, watch for our nesting platforms. You likely will see an osprey using it in late spring to early summer.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.