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MailTribune.com
  • Birds on a wire try to avoid predators

  • I have a theory about the birds that huddle together on power lines that I'm hoping you can confirm. They huddle together not just for the body heat, but also because the power lines emit heat. I also think their behavior indicates that a storm is coming. I can't surmise why they sit only on certain spots on the line, although it seems they're always near a pole. Please take this one on. It's been driving me crazy for years!
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  • I have a theory about the birds that huddle together on power lines that I'm hoping you can confirm. They huddle together not just for the body heat, but also because the power lines emit heat. I also think their behavior indicates that a storm is coming. I can't surmise why they sit only on certain spots on the line, although it seems they're always near a pole. Please take this one on. It's been driving me crazy for years!
    — Deb, Central Point
    We've certainly wondered what draws birds to certain points of a power line — particularly that one part just above our front-left fender.
    Because our bird knowledge is limited to the fact that our fine product is ideal for lining cages, we figured we should check with an actual expert. So we called our friends at the Klamath Bird Observatory and spoke with outreach and communications specialist Brandon Breen.
    As for your hypothesis that power lines provide heat, well, we don't mean to ruffle your feathers, but Breen was skeptical.
    "If heat was a bigger issue, you'd see them congregating to other areas that are heat sources," he said. "Feathers are so incredible that heat is not really a big issue."
    Breen gave us a refresher course on the insulating properties of feathers.
    "They basically trap little pockets of air," he said. "Those little pockets of air will trap the heat from the body so it doesn't go out."
    Breen explained that birds generally use lines in areas without trees to stay safe from ground predators.
    "There aren't any other good perches, so they just use wires instead. From my experience, I haven't noticed a pattern."
    Breen didn't have an answer for why birds choose certain points on a line.
    "From my experience. I haven't noticed a pattern," he repeated.
    As for whether birds can predict the weather, Breen isn't aware of any studies and couldn't comment.
    We found a Nov. 12, 2012, New York Times article headlined "To Birds, Storm Survival Is Only Natural." The article, written after Superstorm Sandy, covered biologists' findings that migratory birds can sense fierce winds, even hurricanes, ahead and skirt around them. It's far from a definitive answer, but it is evidence supporting your hypothesis.
    Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.
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