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Bald eagle electrocuted in power line crash, 145 residents lose power

Jan 8, 2024, 3:39 PM

bald eagle power line...

(Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

(Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

A West Seattle beach community lost power over the weekend after an American bald eagle got caught in powerlines and was electrocuted. The bird died instantly, according to wildlife personnel, while 145 customers in the area were without power early Saturday morning.

Kersti Muul, a wildlife biologist, happened to be one of the residents who responded to the scene.

“I examined it and found injuries consistent with electrocution,” Muul told the West Seattle Blog. “I surmise it cross-phased the two-phase power lines that run up Jacobson. Due to line configuration at 56th Ave SW, the lines are very close together.

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“Sad … this pair is always present when watching orcas go by,” Muul continued, referencing to the bird’s mate. “I love listening to them and actually just recorded them the other day.”

The two bald eagles were popular among the residential area, with one resident telling FOX 13 that she could see the bald eagle’s mate after the incident occurred.

“You could see her watching from up in the trees,” Josephy told FOX 13. “She was already grieving.”

On Monday, Seattle City Light issued a statement regarding the incident.

“City Light will initiate an assessment by the distribution engineering and environmental teams to evaluate options for retrofitting the poles and wires to reduce the risk of future electrocutions of bald eagles and other large raptors and herons that live in the vicinity of this event,” Seattle City Light said in a prepared statement.

“We are committed to protecting bald eagles and all wildlife species affected by our generation and distribution of electricity,” Seattle City Light continued. “As part of this effort, we implement an Avian Protection Program to address these issues when they arise and improve our system to minimize bird mortalities in the first place.”

 Seattle City Light has yet to confirm whether the distance between high-voltage power lines was the cause of the collision.

Power line collisions occur when birds fly into wires. Bird size, agility, experience, flocking, territorial or courtship activities, weather, time of day, human activities, configuration and location of the line, line placement, and line size can all contribute to these collisions, according to the American Eagle Foundation. These collisions have been occurring more frequently since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approved certain permits.

On September 30, 2022, USFWS proposed a rule amending its regulations authorizing permits for eagle incidental take and eagle nest take. The term “take” under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act means to “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, destroy, molest or disturb” an eagle.

USFWS’ proposal, under these general permits, would “authorize the take of eagles where the take is compatible with the preservation of bald and golden eagles, and the take is associated with, but not the purpose, of an activity and cannot be practicably avoided,” according to USFWS.

Included in the infrastructure project umbrella are power line projects. To receive this permit, the power line project must ensure that new construction is electrocution-safe for bald and golden eagles and implement a reactive retrofit strategy following all eagle electrocutions. USFWF also requires these projects to have an eagle collision response strategy while incorporating information on eagles into project siting and design.

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Lastly, all projects must have steps in place to prevent and respond to an eagle shooting, as illegal shooting of birds on power lines is the leading cause of death for many protected bird species in Idaho and its neighboring states, according to new research from Boise State University. The study found, between 2019 and 2022, a total of 410 dead birds along 120 miles of power lines in Idaho and neighboring states.

Dozens of permits approved or pending would allow roughly 6,000 eagles to be killed over several decades, according to AP. Most permits are for wind farms, and more than half the killed birds would be golden eagles.

Alongside these infrastructure project permits, USFWS data obtained by The Associated Press (AP) revealed that criminal cases brought by U.S. wildlife officials for killing or harming protected bald and golden eagles have dropped in recent years. There were 232 violations logged in 2014 compared to just 11 in 2022.

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Bald eagle electrocuted in power line crash, 145 residents lose power