EEI > Delivering The Future
FirstEnergy Uses Drones to Inspect Protected Bird Nests
June 2018

​Drone inspections are becoming a part of everyday operations for America’s electric companies. Recently, FirstEnergy has been using its drones to survey locations where protected birds have started nesting without disrupting them with lineworker inspections.

Birds of prey, such as ospreys and eagles, often nest on tall structures, including electric transmission towers. A typical bird nest inspection requires a crew to go out to each nesting site to inspect the nest, which can be unsettling to the birds and time-consuming for the crews.

Because birds of prey are very territorial, FirstEnergy's FAA-licensed drone pilots—who have completed seven inspections this year—maintain a 330-foot distance between the drone and nests. The drone is able to capture high-resolution images inside of the nests, and the company's environmental support staff works with lineworkers to determine the appropriate course of action based on the footage.
 
"I am excited we are among the first in the industry to use drones for nest inspections, and confident other electric companies will use our positive feedback and follow suit," said FirstEnergy's Amy Ruszala, an environmental scientist who was recently on-site for the first nest inspections.
 
By using a drone, each nest inspection was completed within 15 minutes. If the drone observes a nest without eggs on a pole, a lineworker in a bucket truck will remove the nest.

"If a nest with eggs is situated on our equipment and poses a serious threat to the birds' safety and our service reliability, we will work with state wildlife officials to install a special nesting box to provide a safer home for the ospreys and eagles," said Ruszala.

Environmental scientists and leaders at FirstEnergy plan to team up with wildlife officials this fall and will use the drone footage to identify and build new nesting platforms for the birds. This is just one way electric companies are using new technologies to keep birds and wildlife safe from energized equipment.