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Dead Birds

I was as an Overhead Troubleshooter in the Bronx at the time, and we work as a one-man crew. I was called to respond to a customer complaint, on a very quiet Sunday, to investigate why there were a lot of dead birds at the base of a pole.

When I arrived on location, sure enough there were dead birds at the base of the pole. This was a 13 KV riser pole that fed one side of an Auto Loop, so I set up the truck and went up to have a look. The pole looked fine, it was the start of the overhead feed, the riser looked fine, the primary dead ends were the old green glass type, but looked ok, no sign of tracking on the cross arms, and all the grounds were in place for the riser, and the surge arresters. I didn’t measure any stray voltage on the pole or in the area. Across the street was a very large city park, there were birds everywhere, but I really didn’t see any problem with pole, so I knocked on the door of the customer who had called, and no answer.

I called the dispatcher on the radio to report what I found, and not to date myself but it was before everyone had a cellphone, so I told him everything looked ok here. He told me to “wait don’t leave this customer called many times and she is very upset.” He said he would call her and see if she was home. He was able to get her on the phone and she came out to talk to me.

This area of the Bronx is a very wealthy area called the Riverdale section. The customer came out and told me that she has cleaned the dead birds up at the base of the pole many many times, but they keep showing up dead. We both went over to the pole and looked at the birds at the pole, some of them looked badly decomposed, others looked like the just fell out of the sky. The woman seemed exasperated, she told me she has called everyone that she could think of, including the Audubon Society. This confused me for a minute, because when she said Audubon, I was thinking Autobahn, the highway system in Germany. When I asked her why she had called them, she looked at me like I was an idiot. She then explained that the Audubon Society is an American non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation of birds and has been around since 1905. I got a good laugh at myself later about that one. I told her I would continue to investigate what was happening.

My supervisor shows up on location, after hearing what was going on. Now there is three of us staring at the dead bird at the base of the pole. He says to the woman that’s he’s going to have a “CSI” done to the birds. So, let me just say my supervisor would not know what the Audubon Society was either, just to put it nicely. She asked was a “CSI” is and he said, “you know, like the TV show, CSI.” Now she’s rolling her eyes at the both of us. So, he gets on the radio and called the dispatcher in the Control Center and says he want a “CSI” done to the birds out here on the location. Now I’m thinking he sounds like an idiot too, but little did I know that my company has a wildlife expert on retainer for situations involving birds or any other wildlife issues. The dispatcher calls back and says, “Ok no problem, I’ll call in the wildlife guy.”

A little while later, there are four of us out there, staring at dead bird at the base of the pole. The wildlife guy took a close look at the birds and showed us that if you look closely none of the bird have any legs. He suspects that they were electrocuted on the pole, and their legs were burnt off. The guy took a few samples, bagged them, and said he would know for sure in a few days. We suspected that after a good rain, with the pole and cross arms wet, that there was just enough current leaking from the dead-end insulators to take out the birds standing on the arms.

I was not going to wait for his report, so I turned in the pole to the construction group to have all the dead-end insulators changed. This would require a feeder outage to work on the pole which would have to be scheduled. The feeders (circuits) in our territory are not always allocated feeders, they could also be feeding Unit Stations, High Tension vaults, or underground distribution transformers as well, so this requires crews to perform some de-load moves before the feeder can be cut out and ready for work.
A few days later, my supervisor told me the wildlife guy had finished his “CSI” of the birds, and confirmed they were electrocuted.

I took a ride by the pole later that day and found all new dead-end insulators, and no dead birds.

Peter J McGrath, former Overhead Troubleshooter

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