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Why birds like to sit on power lines

Updated on September 19, 2016

Birds love to perch on power lines

Birds sitting on power lines are one of the mundane everyday scenes often taken for granted, yet one that brings endless fascination. When I see rows of birds on power lines, I often stare in wonderment. Why do birds like to perch on power lines? Why don't birds get shocked? Or do they? Why do they sit spaced evenly in a row? Why do they face the same direction?

Birds like to congregate on power lines

Perching and flock behavior

Power lines are common and convenient rest stops for birds in cities and towns where there are very few trees. High-tension wires make great lookout perches for passerine birds or the common perching birds, like sparrows, starlings, crows, grackles, to name a few. The feet of perching birds or songbirds are adapted to grabbing onto branches and power lines. Not all birds have this special adaptation.

Birds are social animals and like to interact with each other as they roost on power lines. Being up high gives the birds a good vantage point to see the surroundings and be on the lookout for predators and food sources.

Photo Credit:Vurnman

This looks like a sold-out concert. When most of the seats are taken, birds will try to accommodate each other in a shorter power line.

Who called this high-voltage meeting?

Photo Credit: Josiah Bryan

Birds can be seen at dusk or sunrise perched on overhead power lines. Every time a bird lands on the wire, the entire row of birds on the same wire would move over for the newcomer. Birds are instinctively such considerate and accommodating little creatures.

This high-voltage convention appears to be an enormous flock of birds in the midst of migration, taking a short rest on power lines before heading on to their destination.These are nocturnal migrants because they are birds that migrate at night.

Birds on wire can be loads of fun and add a flair to any room

Watch as hundreds of birds gather on power lines - Shades of Hitchcock's "The Birds"

Why do birds like to perch?

Barn Swallow

(hirundo Rustica) Perched on a Wire

18"W x 12"H

Peel and Stick Wall Decal by Wallmonkeys

Starlings on powerlines

Resting on power line from Ardea Wildlife Pets

The feet of birds are adapted for perching

Feet has locking mechanism

The average bird foot has four independent flexible toes and typically the first big toe (the hallux) is turned backward, while the other three toes fanned forward. This condition is called anisodactyl. Most song birds and perching birds, like sparrows, thrushes, wrens, warblers and others are anisodactyl. When perching birds sit, a tendon on the backside of the ankle automatically flexes locking their toes around the branch. With feet locked, sleeping birds don't fall. As the bird stands up and straightens its legs, the tendon releases its lock. This adaptation also enable birds to perch on power lines

See different adaptations of bird's feet

Gridlock of birds - High wire acrobats

Photo Credit:Graustark

These bird formations on intersecting powerlines almost seemed staged and choreographed. Who would ever think that these little creatures would roost at every angle. Being bird-brained is not necessarily a bad thing. Birds are smarter than most people think.

A show of bird power - Birds at every angle on pylons

Photo Credit: ringmaster006

Birds rest along the cross arms of an electrical transmission tower, colloquially termed an electricity pylon in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. This is a slanted look at birds at different angles. It is no wonder birds are an endless source of fascination of photographers and birdwatchers.

Why do birds sit evenly spaced on power lines?

Why do they face the same direction?

One theory is that birds space themselves evenly along power lines so that there is enough room to land and take off from the wire. This mandates a certain distance for the wings to spread during take-off. But again, the bird can jump and then spread its wings. The other theory is that keeping a certain distance from each other avoid aggression and conflict.

Photo Credit:melanieburger

Birds that sit on power lines almost always face the direction of oncoming wind. Birds have an easier time taking off and landing facing the wind.

Photo Credit: .patrick.

This row of starlings on a power line appear to be gossiping about the day's events.

Photo Credit: c.a.muller

Pigeons are medium-sized birds compared to smaller birds like wrens or ketrels and will instinctively leave more space between themselves.

Photo Credit:Albert Dahlin

Three's company. These three birds are leaving zero space between themselves to keep warm on the power line. It must have been a momentary stopover to where they were headed in the winter.

Canvas Print of STARLINGS

Flock sitting on building crane at dusk from Ardea Wildlife Pets

Why don't birds get shocked sitting on power lines?

It depends.

Simple illustration of the nature of electricity - When does electrical shock occur?


Why perching birds do not get electrocuted - And others birds do

Joan Baker Designs TR217 19-1/2 by 10-1/2 by 3-Inch Birds on a Wire Art Glass Tray

Take this quick poll.

Do you ever take notice of large flocks of birds on power lines?

See results

Large birds are at risk for electrocution

Due to wide wingspan and collisions

Thousands of raptors (birds of prey) are killed every year due to power lines, particularly in the western U.S. In wide-open plains and deserts, power poles are often the only high perches available for hunters like Bald and Golden eagles and Great Horned owls, who survey the landscape for prey and take off into rising wind currents. Electrocution occurs when their wings brush against a two live wires when settling on top of a grounded pole.

The California condor is the largest flying bird in North America with a wingspan of 9 feet which soar in deserts and open-wide areas of the Western United States. Its population has dwindled due to loss of habitat, poaching, slow rate of reproduction and collisions with power poles. This is a one-year old condor that fell victim to electrocution.

Dove gets electrocuted on powerwire

Bring the outdoors indoors with birds on powerlines wall decals - Huge 5 x 7 ft. to cover a large area

Electric Poles and Birds Wall Decal 20 x 28in
Electric Poles and Birds Wall Decal 20 x 28in

So easy to move, remove, reposition. Change the mood of your room, office, kids' rooms in a flash.


Birds on power lines turn musical

Secret Lives of Common Birds:

Enjoying Bird Behavior Through the Seasons

The Bird Watching Answer Book:

Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Birds in Your Backyard and Beyond

(Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Why Birds Do That:

40 Distinctive Bird Behaviors Explained & Photographed

I would love to hear from you before you fly off

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    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 2 years ago

      What a fantastic and informative hub! One of the ones I had to read through completely - great work. If you have a chance, maybe you'll check out my facts about lions hub -

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 4 years ago

      @DANCING COWGIRL: That's really sad to hear about a one-legged bird.

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 4 years ago from Texas

      I saw, and have a picture of, a bird with one of his feet missing. He was walking around on one peg leg. A person near me suggested that the bird may have been injured on an electrical wire. The bird seemed to be ok otherwise. I watched it jump around for a long while, but never saw it take off and fly.

    • profile image

      cmadden 5 years ago

      Birds are so enchanting. Do you suppose they sit up there on the power lines studying these curious figures below that can't even fly?

    • profile image

      johnsja 5 years ago

      Fascinating lens. I have wondered about this. Thanks for enlightening me. Blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have always wondered this, I remember walking past pilons and seeing the birds sitting on the power lines. I thought it was rather strange. I have a vague recollection of asking my mom why they never got electracuted. And know I know why after all these years. I never thought to youtube it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have always wondered this, I remember walking past pilons and seeing the birds sitting on the power lines. I thought it was rather strange. I have a vague recollection of asking my mom why they never got electracuted. And know I know why after all these years. I never thought to youtube it.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 5 years ago from New York City

      I love to watch birds in flocks and admire their group coordination. A few photos are missing, probably because of the recent changes, but this is a great take on and interesting topic and very much deserving of angel dust.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 5 years ago from Concord VA

      Interesting information.

    • profile image

      termit_bronx 6 years ago

      I always wanted to know about this. Thanks for sharing. Great lens!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      This is a really nice lens, love the photos and videos. I enjoy watchign birds on power lines etc, it's fascinating. Nicely done, blessed.

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 6 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I love birds on wires! I like painting birds perching in branches or on a wire. Not sure why it appeals to me so. Great article! :)

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 6 years ago

      I think the birds like to add some spring to their step by sitting on a power line.

    • Ahdilarum profile image

      Ahdilarum 6 years ago

      In my opinion, it is readily available seat for the birds, for them it is natural seat. Lol..

    • Ahdilarum profile image

      Ahdilarum 6 years ago

      In my opinion, it is readily available seat for the birds, for them it is natural seat. Lol..

    • profile image

      poutine 6 years ago

      thanks for enlighting us.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 6 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks for sharing and I'll admit, I had thought about birds on power lines before! Interesting very interesting. I went outside with an electrical current detector and there is enough voltage in the air to be detected. Wonder if the birds feel something too?

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 6 years ago from US/TN

      This was interesting! I've wondered why birds like power lines so much, and why they sit in certain spots.

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 6 years ago

      Great lens! I've always wondered why birds often face the same direction on power lines.

    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 6 years ago

      Fascinating lens! Loved the musical score of the birds on the wire. Sad about the bird that was electrocuted. Spectacular picts. I've seen lots of birds on wires before but none like this!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      snel siht dekil yllaer....nirhE....yad sdrawkcab

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      very interesting...thanks for sharing

    • Shorebirdie profile image

      Shorebirdie 6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Nice lens.

    • PastorKay profile image

      Pastor Kay 6 years ago

      Have you ever seen this song where they made music notes of the birds on the wire? It's quite beautiful.

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 6 years ago

      Really enjoyed this lens

    • profile image

      dellgirl 6 years ago

      This is a very interesting lens. I learned something here. Thank you for sharing this information.

    • DuaneJ profile image

      DuaneJ 6 years ago

      Beautiful lens!

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 6 years ago

      Interesting topic - would never have thought there was so much to say about birds on power lines.

    • profile image

      TravelingRae 6 years ago

      What a great lens! Birds on a wire are something I take for granted. You answered questions I didn't even know I had. Blessed 10/6/11

    • rootadesigns lm profile image

      rootadesigns lm 6 years ago

      cool lens and very interesting!

    • EMangl profile image

      EMangl 6 years ago

      a great selection of pictures and information

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      I am amazed to find a lens about this, because it's actually something I had wondered about . . . so, naturally, I just had to read this one!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Very interesting to learn all this - I'd never really given it much thought, just always observed the birds with interest. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What an interesting Lens, thank you for sharing this information, I will thin k of it, next time I look at birds on power lines, we have some which I can see from the window, and starlings gather there regurly, mainly in autumn and winter.

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      bossypants 6 years ago

      One of many questions I've had about birds! Very interesting lens -- I learned more than I expected to!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Some interesting information i have found here! Great work on this lens. Thanks for sharing!

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 6 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      great lens. Angel blessed and it will feature on the wild birds lenses published in June when I get it done.

      cheers Annie

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      A lovely lens and a lovely lens idea with beautiful photographs. Very interesting indeed. Maybe birds too like 'power'. :) Thank you. :)

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 6 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      Some amazing photos and interesting information about birds and powerlines.

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 6 years ago

      @BuildABetterMouse: @BuildABetterMouseTrip, birds, like swallows, dive in and out of intersections because these look like open meadows with signal wires as perching branches. The most important reason is that the birds are dive-bombing for migrating moths which usually hang out on cars crossing the intersections.

      Thanks for visiting this lens.

    • BuildABetterMouse profile image

      Steve and Annette 6 years ago

      Do you have any idea why birds swoop around intersections?

    • profile image

      BeyondRoses 6 years ago

      Photos of birds on the powerlines remind me of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, "The Birds" ... great info, and photos!