Controversy over removal of bird nests from power lines

A Facebook post from the Travis Audubon Society is getting a lot of attention. It says Austin Energy workers are using poles to knock down monk parakeet nests.

A Facebook post from the Travis Audubon Society is getting a lot of attention.

"We were shocked when we discovered this,” said Jordan Price with the Travis Audubon Society.

He said they wrote the post on Facebook describing what a caller witnessed.

"This person reported that Austin Energy staff were going around late at night and knocking down monk parakeet nests,” said Price.

It’s a practice the Audubon Society does not agree with.

"We think it's terrible,” said Price.

But Elaina Ball, the Chief Operating Officer for Austin Energy, said those nests can be dangerous.

"This is a transmission structure, and up at the top, on that top arm, you'll see a nest,” said Bell. "These large nests which are made of sticks, combustible material, if there's arching and they catch on fire and fall to the ground, they become a real public safety issue.”

She said they remove about a handful a year, but says they still see between 5 to 10 fires on the poles each year caused by the nests.

"These nests, as you see a few of them around here can get very, very large in fact these monk parakeets can build nests as large as a car," said Ball.

According to Ball, they only focus on clearing the nests from the primary or higher voltage lines because they also worry about a potential power outage for thousands of customers.

"This is where two main circuits come together and that’s an example of one where we will remove the nest, mostly because you're looking at 6 to sometimes as many as 10 thousand customers that can be impacted if there is an electrical outage," said Ball. "A lot of the circuits we patrol and remove nests, they're really our core backbone functions, so these are services that provide electric services to hospitals, and critical infrastructure for the community."

She said they use an insulated pole because they don’t want the workers to get electrocuted.

"When we do remove them our crews will only be working on nests that are up in the energized space and so it’s not safe for our crews to reach in and grab those nests," said Ball.

"We do not think this is acceptable,” said Price.

Price said they want the workers to avoid moving the nests during breeding season, April through June, when baby birds could be in the nest.

But Ball said that's not exactly possible.

"We're not going to go and remove nests unless there is an eminent safety or electrical hazard that could compromise human life,” said Ball. "We’re really looking out for the public safety and that's really why we're making those decisions."

"If they must remove the nest during that period then they should get up there with a fully trained, with a licensed rehabilitator and evaluate the situation, remove the nests and the fledglings and take care of them," said Price.

Now Price said he still worries what that means for the birds.

"We’re looking for volunteers to drive around late at night monitoring Austin Energy staff, taking pictures seeing what they're doing,” said Price.

Ball said they try to preserve the birds when they can.

"They don't go out and remove all the nests, in fact these nests you'll see here on Pleasant Valley have been here for several years,” said Ball.

Now both sides hope they can come up with a plan with will work for both of them.

"We definitely want to work with them on this,” said Price.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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