Why are Birds Safe Sitting on an Electric Wire?

do birds sit on power lines for warmth?

It’s a fine, sunny day, and you’re out for a drive. Looking up, you see a flock of birds sitting contentedly on a stretch of power lines. Knowing about the dangers of electricity, do you ever wonder why they don’t go up in flames and turn into puffs of smoke when stepping on electrical wires? Let’s explore this intriguing fact and find out what’s in a bird’s body that lets it sit safely on high voltage wires. 

How Can Birds Not Get Electrocuted On Power Lines?

To understand this phenomenon fully, let’s discuss how electricity works. Electrical current moves through conductors and that current follows the path of least resistance to the ground where it wants to go. A power line also contains copper wire where electricity flows continuously.  As such, it might seem paradoxical that birds sit safely on the wire instead of getting toasted. 

Well, it has something to do with their position on the power line. Electrical current comes about because of the movement of electrons. One of the things that bring about this movement is the difference in electrical potential. When a bird perches on a power line with both feet at the same time, the feet are on the same electrical potential. As a result, the electrons don’t flow through the bird’s body. No electron movement means no electrical current.  

Now, if any part of the bird touches the ground, power pole, or other wires, the electrical current will flow through it, resulting in an electric shock. That’s why power lines tend to be spaced apart. It’s also the reason why large birds tend to get electrocuted more often than smaller ones. Big birds like eagles and hawks have larger wingspans. As such, they’re more likely to touch the second wire when they land or take off. 

Why Do Birds Sit on Power Lines?

Of course, birds don’t have any concept of electron movements or whether their bodies can conduct electricity or not. They sit on power lines because those high voltage wires are akin to tree branches that make great perching places. Birds also enjoy some benefits when they sit on an electrical wire. 

Little Extra Warmth

During frigid weather, birds tend to congregate on power lines. Not only are power lines slightly warmer, but perching on them with other birds helps them conserve body heat. The electric current flowing through the wires makes them a tad warmer than the surrounding air. When the bird sits on the power line, it feels the heat on its two feet, helping it warm up. So expect to see birds atop power lines when the temperature drops.  

Safe Place From Predators

Animals, such as foxes and cats, prey on birds. To evade these predators, birds will sit on power lines. They get to take their pick between two wires strung high up on power poles, well away from creatures who treat them as a food source.

Advantageous When Finding Food

The high vantage point makes it easier for birds to find food. A bird sitting on a wire can use its keen eyesight to spot insects, fruit, and nut-bearing trees it can feed on. 

Meeting And Resting Place

Birds on power lines are like humans chilling together after a day’s work or before they head off to the office. Some migratory birds tend to flock together high up on electrical wires before they start their journey. As such, you can expect to see quite a number of birds perched on power lines during summer and early fall. 

Can Birds Damage Power Lines?

It’s quite rare for birds to cause damage when they perch on power lines. Many species are light enough for the wires to carry their weight. That’s even if a large number stays on the line. Problems occur when large birds hit the power lines while flying or when some bird types peck the poles. Nesting on power lines can also become an issue because the nesting materials can cause damage to the wires.  

Bird Species Likely To Be Seen On Power Lines

One factor that affects the bird species you might see on power lines is the area where you live. That’s because some species might be indigenous in the locality. In general, these are the kind of birds that like to hang out on power lines. 

  • House Finch 
  • Rock Pigeon 
  • American Kestrel 
  • American Robin 
  • European Starling 
  • Red-winged Blackbird 
  • Eastern Bluebird 
  • Mourning Dove 
  • Swallow 
  • Great-tailed grackle 
  • Scissor-tailed flycatcher 
  • Belted kingfisher  


How do birds stay up on power lines?

Most birds that like to sit on power lines have feet that can grip twigs and branches tightly. Because power lines have almost the same dimension and structure as branches and twigs, these bird types manage to stay up on the wire by gripping it with their talons. 

Why are birds sitting on power lines all facing the same direction?

Birds don’t face the same direction all the time. When they do, it’s more likely because it’s windy. With the way they’re built (heavy in front and lighter at the back), they usually face the wind to suffer less wind resistance. That’s why most birds sit facing the same direction when the wind is blowing.

What if a bird sat on a power line that was very close to the ground placing one foot on the wire and one foot on the ground?

A bird that’s perched with its two feet on the same wire doesn’t get electrocuted because its feet are on the same electrical potential. Electricity travels through the wire instead of on the bird’s body. But if one of its feet or any part of its body touches the ground, the bird will get electrocuted. 

Can a human sit on a power line?

Theoretically, a human can sit on a power line and not suffer from an electric shock. That’s as long as his or her body remains on the same electrical potential. However, getting on and off the wire will be tricky. Humans can’t fly so before they can sit on the line, their bodies will likely touch something other than the wire. That will cause the electricity to flow through their body, leading to an electric shock. 


Birds perch on power lines for several reasons. Fortunately, that’s quite safe for them. The damage they cause on the electrical wires also isn’t too much of an issue. However, millions of birds do die from power lines. But that’s not because of electrocution. They die after colliding with the power lines.  

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