New tricks to keep birds from dying

Power company looking at ways to keep feathered friends from flying into transmission lines

By Glenna Hanley
St. Albert Gazette, April 30, 2005

The power transmission company that owns the lines crossing the Sturgeon River near Big Lake hopes new reflectors will cut down on the number of dead and injured birds.

Wednesday morning, AltaLink linemen used a helicopter to install a series of reflective devices the company hopes will be visible to birds, whether the day is cloudy or bright. Even at night, the phosphorescent reflectors might deter birds from flying into the power lines.

“The bird diverters do not emit a light like a light bulb, but are specially made to reflect both visible light and ultraviolet light. So even though people cannot see ultraviolet light, birds can see it. Even on cloudy days, in low-light conditions, we hope the birds will see the reflectors,” said John Rasmussen, manager of the environment for AltaLink. “There’s a bit of phosphorescence, so though they don’t actually glow, there is some night light noticeable.”

Three differently-coloured patches of reflectors were installed: orange, yellow and white. It’s hoped that the different colours will allow the birds to see a contrast in the sky.

“The bird diverters are similar to the reflector on your bike, except that your bike only reflects when a light shines on it. The diverters also reflect ultraviolet light,” Rasmussen explained.

The bird diverters were developed and have been tested in California. Atco Electric has also tested them for one year on power lines located in central Alberta near Drumheller.

Each reflector costs less than $50 but in St. Albert there were added installation and labour costs associated with using a helicopter and linemen.

“We used a helicopter because of accessibility over water. The helicopter has an external seat, where the lineman, who is roped in, can sit. He could do this work even with the line energized, because the helicopter was not grounded. Otherwise there would have been a power outage in St. Albert,” said Rasmussen, adding the lineman was able to do routine wire maintenance at the same time.

The technology is new, so during the fall bird migration AltaLink will monitor the power lines located on the southwest side of Riel Pond to see how effective the flashers are at alerting birds to the presence of the dangerous wires.

Installing the reflectors on every power line in Alberta is not feasible, but Rasmussen believes that if the program here is successful, the flashers will be put in other areas.

“There are 11,000 kilometres of transmission lines in Alberta, so we cannot put them everywhere, but if they are successful in St. Albert, we may look at other high risk areas in places such as the Big Lake wetlands, where there are a lot of birds,” he said.

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