A Canada goose was electrocuted this afternoon after apparently colliding with a 12,000 volt wire that supplied electricity to the Hilton hotel at the Marina. The impact, occurring at about 4 pm, broke and brought down the cable that was strung about thirty feet above ground along Marina Boulevard in front of the hotel. The live end of the cable set fire to the dead grass below. Apart from the bird, there were no injuries. Berkeley Fire Department, PG&E crews, and Berkeley Police came to the scene. All power to the hotel was cut. A hotel staff person said they expected power to be restored by about 6:30 p.m. Meanwhile, anxious hotel guests gathered in the darkened lobby and some were trying to check out with the computers down.
According to a PG&E crew member on the scene, this is the first local instance where a bird colliding with a high tension cable has broken the wire. On a number of other occasions, birds alighting on power poles manage to short out the wires, causing a flash that kills the bird and sometimes severs the cable.
There were apparently no eyewitnesses to the impact. The bird lay dead some sixty yards from the southern pole and about ten yards from the northern pole. The cable broke about midway between the poles. The PG&E staffer noted that Canada geese are heavy birds and strong fliers. According to a Berkeley Fire crew member, another segment of the high voltage cable came down on the east side of the line, hundreds of yards away near the Schoolhouse Creek outfall, in an apparently unrelated incident not involving a bird.
Canada geese are year-round residents of the Marina. They raise their broods here and are frequently seen on the waters of the North Basin, just east of Cesar Chavez Park, and in the South Sailing Basin, south of University Avenue. They fly regularly between these water bodies and other destinations.
Update: The question has come up how the bird could have broken the wire by the sheer mechanical force of its collision, and how the bird could have been electrocuted by that contact alone. The cables are very strong. Birds perch on high voltage wires all the time without harm, as long as they don’t also contact another wire or ground. A look at the transmission line after PG&E restored it the next day provides a possible answer. The top of the poles carries not just one but two high voltage wires separated by no great distance, hard to judge from below, but possibly only a foot or two. See small photo, right. The bird has a wingspan of up to six feet. The bird probably struck both wires and created a short circuit between them. That not only killed the bird instantly, it created a high-temperature flash that spot-melted the cables and brought them down. Such an explanation makes sense to me. But I’ll await an analysis by PG&E if one is forthcoming.