Plenty has been said about why birds are safe to land on power lines. But condors, apparently, are not. The linked article explains that condors are electrocuted often enough and endangered enough that they are doing special "power pole aversion training" to keep them away even after release.

Why are condors electrocuted while other birds (pigeons, crows, etc.) are perfectly safe?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is on-topic because understanding how power lines work, why they are unsafe, and how to make them safe, is even tangentially about Electrical Engineering. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Jul 8 '16 at 6:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Electrical dangers aside, condors are large enough for a simple collision with a steel cable to be fatal. Smaller birds like pigeons also fly into power lines, but they are light enough not to break any bones. \$\endgroup\$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 8 '16 at 9:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Other birds do affect power lines gizmodo.com/… \$\endgroup\$ – Pete Kirkham Jul 8 '16 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've often wondered whether the capacitance has an effect as seen with helicopter working on HV lines. As seen here Beacuse to be honest I've never seen birds perched on HV lines \$\endgroup\$ – user116292 Jul 9 '16 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is not true where someone says touching two cables causes electrocution. If both cables are the same voltage. A potential is needed such as touching an earth at zero and 1000v If earth was at the same potential i.e. 1000v you are safe as no potential difference exists. If there were three cables each 1000v and your leg touching two cables, if your hand touched the third then the potential for a 1000v shock exists. \$\endgroup\$ – blueflash Jul 13 '16 at 19:34

Wingspan. Condors are large birds and can easily bridge the gap between the divided power lines. Pigeons, Crows, etc, are tiny. The only way to get shocked is by completing a circuit after all.

Which is why that article has a spread its wings pun in the title California Condor Recovery Program Spreads Its Wings.

From another article:

The California condor is big. In fact, it's the largest flying bird in North America with a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet.

Michael Mace, curator of birds for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, tells NPR's Arun Rath that the condor "is like the 747 compared to a Cessna if you look at it proportionally with other species like eagles and turkey vultures."

Mace works in a condor power line aversion training program at the zoo. It was developed to address the condors' unfortunate run-ins with power lines.

"When they're flying, there's no reason to look forward because they're scanning the earth looking for carrion," Mace explains.

Because the birds have no reason to look forward, they fly into power lines and risk electrocution. On top of that, when the condors are looking for a place to sleep, they land on power poles and structures, and get electrocuted there too.

Their large size makes them more vulnerable to electrocution than smaller birds, because they're more likely to touch two lines at once. (Touching just one wire is safe, which is why many birds land on power lines without consequence).

Since replacing power lines with a larger spacing between wires is completely impractical and unfeasible, a system of training animals with aversion therapy was devised. Humans are trained the same with constant warnings not to touch live power cables, and training for power line workers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Humans are trained the same" - with shock aversion therapy? Yes, some of us trained ourselves! \$\endgroup\$ – Bruce Abbott Jul 8 '16 at 6:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BruceAbbott You won't believe the repeat offense rate when using shock aversion therapy with HT Voltage training. \$\endgroup\$ – Aron Jul 8 '16 at 8:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Obligatory xkcd strip: xkcd.com/242 \$\endgroup\$ – helloworld922 Jul 8 '16 at 9:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was long ago looking after a nephew while his parents took a brother to hospital (asthma). My charge bit into a live power cord. A shocking thing to do , he found. No obvious long term damage but the aversion seemed to work. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Jul 8 '16 at 11:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon - getting up in the middle of the night, when I was 3-4 years old, to pee, I, in the darkness, inadvertently directed the stream right into a badly placed socket. The resulting shock (and fireworks!) woke the whole house and was the direct cause of my grandfather leaving our house for one of my dad's sisters (who only had daughters). Fortunately, there was no damage (to me) and it worked too ...! \$\endgroup\$ – davidbak Jul 8 '16 at 19:01

Wingspan, most likely.

enter image description here

Figure 1. The condor, monotypic genus, is the largest bird in the Western Hemisphere with a wingspan of up to 3.5 m.. Photo by Colegota on Wiki Commons.

enter image description here

Figure 2. Typical cross-arm support for < 10 kV three-phase system. Source.

Electrocution will occur if the bird's wings bridge the cables or a cable to earthed structure. Smaller birds will pass through unscathed.

Another factor may be the larger bird's inertia. At take-off the bird is having to generate maximum lift by wing flapping - unlike the photo which appears to show effortless gliding. During this stage of flight the ability to avoid obstacles is probably critically reduced. I know that in Ireland the electricity network provider (ESB Networks) has a particular problem with swans (Ireland's largest bird) whose water runways are used from generation to generation. Cable routing across waterways is sited to facilitate the birds.


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