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If you stick your finger in a socket, you’re in for a bad time, so how can birds perch on power lines without getting zapped?

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Many of us learned that electricity can be dangerous back when we were toddlers. You know, that time you tried to stick a fork in an electrical outlet and all the adults in the room freaked out.

Compared to a standard outlet, overhead power lines carry a lot more electricity, so touching them is an even bigger no-no. But that doesn’t explain how birds perch on power lines all the time without getting zapped. Besides being way more dangerous, overhead power lines usually aren’t even insulated like the cords on appliances.

Well, it’s not because birds have some sort of superpower. Instead, it turns out that the reason they can sit on power lines has to do with how electric currents and circuits work. Electric current is just the movement of electrons.

Specifically, from an area with a lot of electrons to one with fewer. Scientists describe that as moving from lower to higher potential. If someone were to stick their finger in an electrical outlet, electrons would travel through their body to get to a spot with higher potential usually, the ground.

Which is why sticking your finger in a socket is a terrible idea. But when a bird perches on a wire, they’re totally fine. That’s because both feet are on the same wire they’re not in contact with an area of higher potential, like the ground.

The electrons in the wire can't get to an area of higher potential by passing through the bird’s body, so they don't. And since no current flows through the bird, it’s unharmed. But say a bird moves one foot to a different wire with a different potential.

Now, their body has formed a path for the electrons to move from low to high. Potential, also known as a circuit. Current flows through the circuit, and it’s Bye Bye Birdie.

Now, thankfully, most birds don’t have a problem with power lines. But some do get electrocuted. Typically, these are larger raptors, like eagles, hawks, and owls.

Often, these birds will perch on an electrical pole, then stretch out a wing and brush it against a power line. That completes a circuit between the power line and the pole, which leads to the ground. Electrocution is usually fatal for birds, and scientists estimate that millions of them are electrocuted by power lines each year in the U.

S. To protect larger birds, many utility companies are now implementing raptor-safe power pole designs. These include structures that discourage birds from perching on poles or that leave more space between the pole and charged wires, so birds are less likely to touch both at the same time.

Electricity allows us to do amazing things, like reheat yesterday’s pizza in under a minute or watch SciShow! But it can also kill us and our feathered friends, so it’s always better to leave the power lines to the professionals. Speaking of professionals, Skillshare is packed with classes taught by the pros, and you can learn about everything from circuits to watercolors.

There's even a class about how to paint birds, taught by watercolor artist Amy Giglio. Amy has lots of tips for beginners, from picking out brushes to choosing a reference image. So even if you've never painted before, it might be a fun chance to spread your wings and try something new, all while supporting SciShow.

Right now, Skillshare is offering SciShow viewers 2 months of unlimited access for free. There are more than 20,000 classes to choose from, and you can follow the link in the description to check it out! [♩OUTRO].