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Penn Power Partners with Erie Bird Observatory to Protect Nesting Birds, Prevent Outages

March 5, 2021
Partnership to install a nesting platform on top of a 55-ft wooden pole in Greenville, Mercer County.

Penn Power, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., has partnered with the Erie Bird Observatory for the second year in a row to install a nesting platform on top of a 55-ft wooden pole in Greenville, Mercer County. The partnership is part of Penn Power's ongoing efforts to protect nesting birds and prevent power outages. It is intended to discourage ospreys from nesting on utility poles when they return to the area in the coming weeks.

Over the past two years, the FirstEnergy Foundation has donated a total of US$10,000 to the Erie Bird Observatory to fund the construction of nesting platforms across western Pennsylvania. In recent years, Penn Power has worked with the organization to install seven nesting platforms adjacent to utility poles that have experienced high levels of osprey activity.

"We've experienced a significant spike in the osprey population over recent years, and we anticipate this year will be no different since the birds typically return to the same nesting sites as the year before,” said Amy Ruszala, an environmental scientist and avian expert at FirstEnergy. "Our goal is to not only remove unoccupied osprey nests that are situated on our utility poles but also take action to prevent the birds from making new nests on our equipment."

Birds of prey, like ospreys, often seek out tall structures including electric transmission towers and poles to build their nests, which can measure up to 3 ft in width. These nesting habits often place the birds near energized electrical equipment — jeopardizing their well-being and potentially causing power outages.

Because ospreys prefer to nest near bodies of water, the new 5-sq-ft wooden nesting platform was installed on top of an existing utility pole that previously served as a prime nesting habitat for the birds on Werner Road along the Shenango River. Last year, the company installed three nesting platforms near the Route 18 causeway over the Shenango River Lake in Mercer County and in Hartstown, Crawford County.

"We are proud to partner with Penn Power to have these nest structures in place before the ospreys return to the area in late March and take up nesting this spring," said Sarah Sargent, executive director and founder of the Erie Bird Observatory. "Our partnership is a win-win because it helps keep the nesting birds safe and also benefits electric customers."

Penn Power implemented drones to complete bird nest inspections and deployed a mobile app that allows utility personnel to report avian issues in real time. This streamlines the process to protect nesting birds, enhancing electric service reliability.

Utility personnel also worked closely with FirstEnergy's environmentalists and state wildlife officials to remove nests from substations and transmission towers while the birds were south for the winter. Ospreys are a month away from the onset of their breeding season and will lay their eggs between April and July.

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