Empowering Communities

A Bird’s Eye View of Saving Our Feathered Friends

October 27, 2016

Raptor sightings are usually reserved for dinosaur movies, but a modern-day raptor species is alive and well and might be nesting on a power line near you.

One of the most recognizable raptor species is called an osprey, and it likes to build its nest high above the ground. Ospreys are fond of building their homes on man-made structures, including electrical distribution poles and transmission structures, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – and this can lead to power outages.

Last summer, ComEd crews checking the cause of a power outage in Summit, Ill., discovered that the culprit was an approximately 5-foot-wide osprey nest perched on a distribution tower. Crews had to reroute power to customers until they could remove the nest, but because the birds are protected by state and federal regulations, they were committed to not removing the nest until the birds were finished nesting for the season. In addition, leaving the nest in place could endanger the birds, create a fire hazard or cause additional mechanical failure. ComEd crews needed more information to balance critical safety and environmental commitments.

ComEd needed to see into the nest, but the fact that it was 110-feet above the ground made it much more challenging for crew members to tackle. ComEd’s Environmental Services Department stepped in and enlisted the help of their colleagues who had access to and experience with ComEd’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS/drone). The drone was able to safely capture photos and videos of the nest – spotting two hatchlings! – while biologists were on hand by invitation to ensure the safety of the birds.

ComEd used the images it gathered from the drone to formulate a plan to protect the birds by removing the nest after the birds left the nest for good. After a few weeks, the birds left the nest, and ComEd was able to restore power to its original route. ComEd plans to relocate the nest and cover the tower to discourage birds from re-building future nests there. ComEd is planning to construct a platform in the hopes of inviting birds to create nests in safe places.