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Do Birds Ever Cause Wildfires?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are many anecdotes about bird electrocutions causing wildfires, but very little scientific research to determine how regularly this occurs.

In a recent paper, researchers set out to quantify how many birds were responsible for these fires between January 2014 and December 2018. They had to use a creative method to find their data, as this had never been looked at before. Their method involved setting up Google Alerts for the keyword searches "bird (and) fire," "eagle (and) fire," and "hawk (and) fire." They then had the task of poring over the results to find those that had been definitively proven as bird-related, such as an expert's statement or a photo of a dead bird next to a power line. They also wanted to see which regions were especially prone to bird electrocutions.

At the end of this process, they had found 44 incidents of bird electrocutions causing wildfires in the contiguous United States. So how do these electrocutions happen? Birds regularly nest on utility poles, which are usually safe because the current is relatively small. However, if a bird happens to touch two wires of different voltages at the same time, or a wire and a grounded pole, they can get electrocuted. Large, fast birds such as hawks, eagles, and vultures are the most likely victims.

Watch out for that bird!

  • Although some of the bird-related fires caused significant ecological damage, they are only a very small percent of all U.S. wildfires, most of which are caused by humans, lightning, or heat from the Sun. There were nearly 60,000 U.S. wildfires in 2021.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, dry areas of California had the highest density of bird-related wildfires. These are especially dangerous considering how densely populated that region is. Overall, though, the fires caused by bird electrocutions were relatively small.

  • The researchers hope that power companies take note of the study results and take steps to fully insulate their power lines or provide safe perches on power transformers. Not only could it save thousands of bird lives each year, but it could potentially avert a major wildfire disaster.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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