# Bird on an overhead line - Current flow

1. Feb 4, 2013

### Fjolvar

Hi I have a basic question. When birds sit on an overhead line, they are sitting on a bare conductor which is transmitting high power, but they don't get electrocuted. I think the answer is because the bird itself doesn't complete the circuit so current won't flow through them, but I don't fully understand why. Why couldn't the current form a loop or circular shape path within the bird and then leave the bird back into cable, thus forming a closed loop and conducting current?

2. Feb 4, 2013

### Staff: Mentor

The resistance through the bird foot-to-foot is much higher than the resistance of the wire between the bird's feet. So pretty much zero current flows through the bird's body instead of going through the bird.

3. Feb 4, 2013

### FOIWATER

It is voltage that is the 'driving force' for current to flow. A volt is equal to a joule of energy, per coulomb of charge. When there exists a potential different between two electrically continent points, current flows.

For all intents and purposes, the difference in voltage between the birds feet is zero since the voltage on the line is ideally constant at any point.

That is why no current travels through the bird. I've read that they do enjoy sitting on the lines, though, as the high voltage provides a 'tingle'.

4. Feb 4, 2013

### Fjolvar

So the current chooses the path of the wire instead of the bird since it has lower resistance, but if the bird was holding onto a second wire that was grounded, would the current still flow through the first wire as before or would it now flow through the bird and then through the grounded wire? I read somewhere that if the bird is grounded then it will be electrocuted, but I don't understand.. does the ground create some potential within the bird itself? I mean wouldn't the bird have the same resistance no matter if it's touching the ground or not? Sorry for all this confusion, I'm just trying to convince myself of this phenomena and going through the arguments in my head :)

5. Feb 4, 2013

### sophiecentaur

The high voltage lines carry AC (with a very few exceptions). When an animal hangs on the line, it has a certain Capacitance (a tiny capacitance between it and Earth). The AC voltage on the cable causes a minscule charge to flow on and off the animal every cycle of the AC. The size of the animal and the actual value of the AC voltage govern whether this tiny AC current is enough to kill it, tickle it or have no effect.
Apparently, the highest voltage transmissions lines cause death or discomfort to birds that try to perch but the intermediate voltage lines (up to about 50kV) are OK. Hence you only get birds perching on them.
Maintenance staff can work on the high voltage lines, live. They get access by helicopter and they have to wear Faraday (conductive) suits so that the induced currents flow over the suit and not through their bodies. (Total nutters - I reckon - hanging up there with those lethal voltages and then having to step off and onto a hovering helicopter. Danger of death, danger of death and danger of death)

6. Feb 4, 2013

### jim hardy

lineman's hot suits (a Faraday cage they wear)

http://www.hubbellpowersystems.com/lineman/accessories/suit.asp

Sophie is right. Capacitance is proportiopnal to area/distance, and the bird's surface area gives him a small capacitance to earth. If capacitive current into and out of his feet is enough to tickle he'll probably leave to find another wire.

I recently drove across Kansas , quite a few miles along some medium voltage transmission lines. On each pole was a structure to keep birds from landing on the crossarm that supports the wires. That's because a large hawk (or buzzard) has wingspan enough to bridge the distance between the wires ..

old jim

old jim

7. Feb 4, 2013

8. Feb 5, 2013

### Fjolvar

Can anyone help me with this one please?

9. Feb 5, 2013

### DrZoidberg

I have a 220kV line running past my town and I have often seen birds sit on the ground wire but they never sit on a current carrying wire.

10. Feb 5, 2013

### gnurf

There's a potential difference between the wire and ground regardless of the bird, but when you connect a conducting bird between the two, that entire potential will be across the bird. The bird provides a current path with whatever resistance the bird can muster. OK I just realized I picked a rubber duck. I'm not very good at this, sorry.

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11. Feb 5, 2013

### Fjolvar

Thanks for the illustration! So just to clarify, when current is traveling it will choose the path of least resistance, but if there are two paths (through the bird which is grounded or continuing through the original wire) it will flow through the bird because the ground potential is present on the other side. So current always wants to make it to the ground potential even if it has to flow through some higher resistance to get there despite there being an immediate lesser resistive path such as the wire transmitting power?

12. Feb 5, 2013

### DrZoidberg

No, that statement is simply wrong. The current will always! choose all available paths. And the current through each path is always! V/R. Now V may drop if the load is too high but that won't happen in this case.

13. Feb 5, 2013

### Fjolvar

There seems to be a contradiction here, unless I'm misunderstanding something. Can anyone explain please?

14. Feb 5, 2013

### Fjolvar

Yes but there is a voltage difference from the line to the bird right? So wouldn't this cause current to flow through the bird??

15. Feb 5, 2013

### Staff: Mentor

No contradiction. There is a current division, with the ratio in the currents inversely proportional to the resistance of each path. The current that flows trough the bird's legs is infinitessimal because of the much higher resistance compared to the low resistance of the piece of wire between the bird's feet.

16. Feb 5, 2013

### sophiecentaur

Forget birds and wires. Take two (or any number of) resistors in parallel. The current will be V/R in each case - hence the lower resistance path will pass more current. The voltage across a few cm of cable will be very very very low (you may lose 100V over 100km so that would make a drop of 10μV for each cm of wire). This means that the voltage between a birds feet is no more than a few tens of microvolts.

17. Feb 5, 2013

### sophiecentaur

This is where the Capacitance of the bird's body comes in. It can store charge and discharge it back to the cable as the voltage varies. The voltage on the bird 'follows' the voltage on the cable as the charge flows on and off the bird with the alternating voltage. This corresponds to a small (AC) current flowing up and down its legs. As described earlier in the thread, the Capacitance for a large bird is greater than for a small bird and the magnitude of AC current in the bird's legs is not enough to harm it when it stands on intermediate voltage cables but it is enough to be uncomfortable / dangerous on very high voltage cables - 100kV and more.

Most cables are spaced far apart enough that most birds will not bridge between two conductors. Their feathers are pretty good insulators actually and would limit the current so I imagine they would get more of a tingle than the shock that humans would get hand-to-hand. For a similar reason, gamekeepers can discourage mammal predators around nest boxes with small electric fences which affect wet, inquisitive noses but not the birds' beaks, I believe.

Incidentally, birds are often frazzled when they perch on the feeder lines connecting high power radio transmitters to the antennae. At radio frequencies, the Capacitance allows much greater current to flow and they do not get the buzzing sensation that 50Hz gives them - so no warning.

18. Feb 5, 2013

### cabraham

Sorry but that makes no sense. If zero current flows in the bird, how do they feel any "tingle". Also, a small current does indeed flow since the IR drop over the distance spanned by the bird's feet is non-zero due to cable resistance. It just happens that the bird resistance is so high compared to that of the cable, the fraction of the current in the bird is very small.

Also, voltage is not "the driving force" that makes current flow. The term "electromotive force" was coined in the early days before Lorentz force was known and understood. Voltage is indeed energy per charge, i.e. joule/coulomb, but Lorentz force is what moves charges. I don't mean to nit pick but it should be mentioned. Best regards.

Claude

Last edited: Feb 5, 2013
19. Feb 5, 2013

### sophiecentaur

There is no explanation for this if you refuse to consider Capacitance. If you do not understand capacitance then look it up - but don't ignore the fact that it exists and accounts for the charges flowing on and off the bird.
I already showed you that you get something in the order of 10μV drop across each cm of the length of a transmission cable so that is nothing to do with the 'tingle'.

20. Feb 6, 2013

### cabraham

Capacitance is something I understand very well w/o having to "look it up". I just wasn't sure if that is what the poster I responded to was inferring. I realize 10 uV is very small, not likely to be felt by the bird. I was merely hoping to get clarification.

FWIW, capacitive coupling, or E field if you prefer, would be strongest in between the wires. I'm sure you know that. Standing on top a wire would incur an E field through the bird since the equipotential lines bend and converge on each cable.

I probably read the post i responded to, and further down you offered an explanation which I did not get a chance to read. I wasn't ignoring you. Any way, hopefully this clears things up. BR.

Claude

21. Feb 6, 2013

For the very high voltages > 100-200KV - the birds will experience another phenomena - the current due to corona, or ioninizing of the air. The cable is round and has a uniform voltage gradient - the air does not typically ionize, but the bird is not a uniform (smooth) shape - and they will generate corona, thus current ( as well as noise ), this effect is also more pronounced with high humidity and at altitude.
The effect of capacitance would also be in microamps, and I suspect below their level of sensation
Also - I would not refer to the live line suits that linemen use as Faraday - the suits ensure all of the surface is at an equal potential. Faraday cage really applies to Electro-Magnetic radiation and static.

22. Feb 6, 2013

### sophiecentaur

You are right that the capacitance would only have an effect of (more like tens of) microamps but this is a lot more than the nanoAmps up one leg and down the other. This simple model assumes a capacitor connected directly to the conductor.
Humans can easily detect 1mA and there are many animals that will detect much less that this. In fact, very low currents can be detected from ungrounded electronic equipment. Objects can be felt to 'vibrate'. I have two touch operated lamps and it is easy to tell when they are powered or not, by the 'feel' of them. This can't be a fault condition because they both exhibit the same thing. You can get the same from microphones and electric guitar pickups.
I couldn't find information about bird sensitivity. They may have evolved a higher sensitivity than humans.