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Predictive Model of Avian Electrocution Risk on Overhead Power Lines
- DWYER, J. F., HARNESS, R. E., DONOHUE, K.
- Conservation biology 2014 v.28 no.1 pp. 159-168
- Buteo jamaicensis, Corvus brachyrhynchos, birds of prey, crows, ecosystems, electric utilities, equipment, hawks, human resources, land cover, models, mortality, risk, California
- Electrocution on overhead power structures negatively affects avian populations in diverse ecosystems worldwide, contributes to the endangerment of raptor populations in Europe and Africa, and is a major driver of legal action against electric utilities in North America. We investigated factors associated with avian electrocutions so poles that are likely to electrocute a bird can be identified and retrofitted prior to causing avian mortality. We used historical data from southern California to identify patterns of avian electrocution by voltage, month, and year to identify species most often killed by electrocution in our study area and to develop a predictive model that compared poles where an avian electrocution was known to have occurred (electrocution poles) with poles where no known electrocution occurred (comparison poles). We chose variables that could be quantified by personnel with little training in ornithology or electric systems. Electrocutions were more common at distribution voltages (≤33 kV) and during breeding seasons and were more commonly reported after a retrofitting program began. Red‐tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) (n = 265) and American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) (n = 258) were the most commonly electrocuted species. In the predictive model, 4 of 14 candidate variables were required to distinguish electrocution poles from comparison poles: number of jumpers (short wires connecting energized equipment), number of primary conductors, presence of grounding, and presence of unforested unpaved areas as the dominant nearby land cover. When tested against a sample of poles not used to build the model, our model distributed poles relatively normally across electrocution‐risk values and identified the average risk as higher for electrocution poles relative to comparison poles. Our model can be used to reduce avian electrocutions through proactive identification and targeting of high‐risk poles for retrofitting.