Feathered Friend or Foe?

Tap tap tap tap tap….

The sound of a woodpecker ranges in pleasantness depending on your location. In the woods? In your garden? You’re probably treating the woodpecker like a celebrity sighting and quickly snapping photos. In bed, trying to catch up on sleep? You’re probably cursing the small to mid-sized tree-dweller. And if you’re relying on your utility to provide you power, that’s a whole other story.

When we think of threats to electric power system reliability, we think big – storms, lightning, etc. Who knew that a family of birds could be such a threat to reliability? Woodpeckers cause a lot of damage to the distribution system due to their dependence on drilling for most aspects of their life – exploration, foraging, and nesting.

Holes from woodpeckers vary in size and number depending on the activity, and due to their territorial behaviour, they often return in subsequent years to create more. The damage caused by woodpeckers is also a double hitter because the holes create an entry point for other causes of wood pole failures – water, insects – as well as affecting the structural integrity of the pole.

86.7% of respondents to a Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) survey indicated that their utility experiences woodpecker damage. The consequences can be severe: loss of distribution assets, maintenance costs, not to mention threats to line crews and public safety.

It is difficult to deter woodpeckers away from utility poles, which make the perfect solitary nest or feeder – with lots of visibility. Habitat loss, a concern for many animals, may be pushing woodpeckers into more populated areas where utility poles provide an easy home. One possible solution is to leave old utility poles up next to replacements to capitalize on their territorial tendencies and encourage the birds to return to the older poles.

Finding a way to support these beautiful creatures while providing safe and reliable electricity is an ongoing conservation and reliability challenge. CEA’s Analytics program supports our members to facilitate important discussions, information sharing, and problem solving for our electricity system – and sometimes – the creatures who live along side us too.