Risk Factor
  • Injuries or death resulting from the passage of electric current through the body.
  • More common in birds, but also in species of climbing mammals.
Click on images to enlarge.
Electrocution - Eagle Foot Electrocution - Raptor Electrocution - Golden Eagle Electrocution - Owl
Burns are usually visible on the soles of the foot of an electrocuted bird. Burns may vary from subtle red areas to burns where the skin is severely damaged. Electrocuted raptors are often found dead underneath electrical transmission wires. Charred feathers or fur are characteristic of electrocuted animals. The greatest hazards for electrocution occur at poles with transformers or grounded metal equipment near the conductors.
  • The potential for electrocution exists wherever high-voltage wires are present.
  • Throughout the year.
Mechanism of Action
  • If an animal’s appendages bridge the gap between two energized components or between an energized component and grounded component, electrical current flows through the gap created by the animal’s body.
  • Electrical current passing through the body can cause irritation, unconsciousness, burns or immediate death depending on the strength (amperage) of the current, the degree of grounding or earth contact of the animal, duration of the shock, degree of moisture present on the points of contact, and, in the case of birds, whether bare skin, feathers or fur are in contact with conducting wires, the latter being a relatively poor conductor.
Signs and Symptoms
  • Animals injured or killed by electrical accidents are often found near power poles or below power lines.
  • Erratic heart rhythm and paralysis in areas of the brain that control breathing and heart rate are usually the cause of death in fatal cases.
  • Burning or charring of hair, feathers or skin is often apparent, usually at the point of contact between the animal and the energized or grounded component.
  • Distribution of lesions depends on the areas affected (e.g., where the current entered or left the body).
  • If an animal initially survives electrical injury, they are often prone to secondary bacterial infections at the site of electrical contact, usually a limb; the function of the infected area may be compromised.
Meat Edible?
  • Barring the presence of other diseases, meat taken from an electrocuted animal may be consumed.
Risk Reduction
  • Companies supplying electricity are continually working to reduce wildlife mortality and power outages caused by interactions between wildlife and power transmission lines.
Samples for Diagnosis
  • In general, a whole carcass is needed to determine if electrocution was a cause of death.
Similar Diseases
  • A dead animal found beside or near power poles or power lines cannot immediately be assumed to have been electrocuted; birds often collide with power lines without electrical injury and are often found underneath. See also trauma.
Further Reading
  • Cooper J.E. 1996. Physical injury. Pp. 157-172 in A. Fairbrother, L.N. Locke, G.L. Hoff (eds.), Non-infectious Diseases of Wildlife. Iowa State University Press. Ames, IA. 219 pp.
  • Thomas N.J. 2001. Electrocution. Pp. 357-360 in Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases: General Field Procedures and Diseases of Birds. M. Friend, J.C. Franson (Tech. eds.), E.A. Ciganovich (ed.). Biological Resources Division Information and Technology Report 1999-001. U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey. Washington, DC. (PDF of Chapter)
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