British Columbia

B.C. raptor rehab treats birds of prey shocked by power lines

A Lower Mainland rehabilitation centre for raptors has seen a dramatic increase in the number of bald eagles and other birds of prey that have received electrical shocks — some fatal — from power lines and transformer boxes.

'We've had some that are electrocuted and are just dead on arrival,' says rescuer

This bald eagle is one of the 47 birds of prey that received electrical shocks from power lines and were brought to the O.W.L. Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta. (O.W.L. rescue centre)

A Lower Mainland rehabilitation centre for raptors has seen a dramatic increase in the number of bald eagles and other birds of prey that have received electrical shocks — some fatal — from power lines and transformer boxes.

The O.W.L. Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society says its Delta, B.C. rescue centre has received 47 birds of prey that suffered electric shocks so far in 2016. Most were killed instantly or had to be put down later.

Last year, the rescue centre saw 31 cases of raptors suffering electric shocks.

Most have been bald eagles, but several hawks and one osprey have also received electric shocks.

"We've had some that are electrocuted and are just dead on arrival,"  said raptor care supervisor Martina Versteeg.

"They can have wings blown off or their sides opened, but unfortunately we sometimes get them still alive in this condition," Versteeg said, adding that most of the animals that arrived alive had to be euthanized.

The O.W.L. rescue centre is currently treating this bald eagle, which has damage to its wing after suffering an electrical shock from a power line. (O.W.L. Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society)

The birds are usually shocked when perching on transformer boxes, or by coming into contact with the power line while flying — sometimes when chasing each other or chasing prey, Versteeg said.

Most of the raptors are from the Lower Mainland, but some were from further away in the province.

Problem areas

BC Hydro spokesperson Moira Scott said the utility takes measures to protect eagles and other birds of prey by building perches on the poles above or below the power line so that the birds can land safely at a distance from the live wires. 

She said they also have what they call "diverters" to help prevent the birds from colliding with the lines.

"It's looks like a reflector ... basically they reflect and glow in the dark and they increase the visibility of the line for the birds so basically they allow the birds to see the lines ahead of time," Scott said.

Versteeg said O.W.L appreciates the steps BC Hydro has done to provide places for birds of prey to perch, but said these are not installed at three spots in Delta which has been the site of six electrocuted birds.

She said she would also like to see more insulation around transformer boxes because she said those cause the most severe injury when birds are shocked.

Scott said she could not say if BC Hydro is specifically looking at the three locations in Delta, but said they continue to work with groups like O.W.L. to identify trouble spots.

'Survival rate is very low'

The society is currently caring for two birds that it knows received electric shocks, and one it suspects received a shock.

One of those three is a bald eagle that was rescued by a BC Hydro crew earlier this year after it got caught in a power line.

Versteeg said the eagle made a quick recovery because it was wasn't directly burned by the wire.

But she said the same eagle, which rescuers tagged with a band, made full contact with a power line wire two weeks ago and is now suffering damage to its wing as well as nerve damage and restriction of blood flow.

She added that she doesn't expect that eagle will survive this time. She also has a "guarded prognosis" for the other two raptors.

"The survival rate is very low," she said.

She said birds of prey are more prone to electrical shocks at this time of year because the adults birds are going back to nesting locations and looking for food sources.

"It's really hard this time of year when you see the moms and the dads get electrocuted and they're leaving nests behind. There are going to be babies left behind because of this.

"That's the hardest part to see."

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