Bird poop conducts electricity much better than mammal poop, because bird anatomy mixes poop and pee together, combining salts and liquids that are mostly separated by the digestive systems of non-feathered folks. (Telling your little brother to urinate on a live electric fence is a really funny joke for sadistic farm children, but he could poop on the wires all he wanted – not that he’d want to.)
This is a problem for the folks who produce electricity, because stringy poop from a flying bird can come in contact with two places on the grid at once, shorting it out. This can, the words of a report from the trade journal Transmission & Distribution World, “cause insulator flashovers due to long streams of stringy, conductive and semi-liquid excrement.” (Stringy, Conductive and Semi-Liquid would be a terrible name for a band.)
I learned the above facts when reporting on a December outage in Concord caused by a hawk that short-circuited the grid with its body, rather than its excrement. Since then, my journalistic instincts have been tuned for electric outages and bird droppings – of which the recent shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York state is a lovely example:
A report by Entergy, the site operator, pointed the finger at a bird “streamer” — colorfully explained in the document as “long streams of excrement from large birds that are often expelled as a bird takes off from a perch” — as the cause of the shutdown, which tripped a safety breaker and took a reactor at the site out of commission for three days in December.
The whole story is here.
If you missed this blog’s guest photo of a “streamer,” caught on the Merrimack River in Manchester, you check it out here.