Birds Versus Power Lines

If you travel to South Africa soon, you may well discover that as a developing nation with fast-increasing population, the country is struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for power. Up until this point, however, most power cuts have been the result of limited power supply, excessive power usage and power plant upgrades… or so the general public thought!

Research has revealed that bird excrement is a major cause of transmission line faults in South Africa and it occurs across the country. Of course, this is not the only ‘natural’ cause of transmission line faults but it would appear to be a major factor. In fact, the serious nature of the problem was identified as early as the year 2000 and since then major efforts to curb the effect of bird excrement on power lines have been put in place. These include the fitting of ‘combs’ on top of power pylons as part of efforts to discourage birds from nesting on them or perching on them. South African power company Eskom has implemented these and other measures to try and ensure that power lines are kept as bird-free as possible.

In a meeting wherein a recent number of power outages in the Western Cape Province were being discussed in January 2006, Jacob Maroga – the then acting chief executive of Eskom – noted that ‘Bird excretion can cause shorts and trips on our transmission system’. During the course of the meeting Eskom presented a graph which indicated that some 400 transmission line faults which had occurred during the year 2000 had been caused by birds. Fortunately, recent surveys have shown that this number has decreased significantly since the implementation of several bird deterrents on power lines and pylons. These strategic efforts to discourage birds from nesting in these sights has also been met by bird lovers with much enthusiasm as they provide a non-violent deterrent to birds and so possibly save hundreds or thousands of birds from dying from electric shock and other power line related dangers.

Unfortunately, the problem of birds on power lines is not the only natural cause of power outages in South Africa. It would seem that bush fires, snow, tornadoes, ice and lightning can also be factors. Fortunately most of these are seldom encountered in South Africa.