When we touch electric wires, we get shocked. Why don't birds sitting on electric wires not get shocked?

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    $\begingroup$ We won't get a "shock" when we aren't touching ground. If you get, there's some sort of thing in you which provides "ground" :-) $\endgroup$ – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Oct 26 '12 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. Actually i never tried to touch the wires :), but I had this in my mind, because when i was child, i saw my father getting shocked and thrown away from the chair to have a injury in head. And they were standing on a plastic chair and repairing socket in home here in India, where normally 230 volt current is present. So now i'm wondering, that time, why did they get shocked without creating closed circuit(plastic is not conductor of electricity) $\endgroup$ – android developer Oct 26 '12 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ Hello Shirish, If you really require an answer regarding plastic, you should focus that on your question... $\endgroup$ – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Oct 26 '12 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ @CrazyBuddy yes i agree with you, but please help if you can. by the way, thanks $\endgroup$ – android developer Oct 26 '12 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ A 230V electrical socket has at least three wires: earth, neutral and live. Many sockets have an earthed metal backbox. If your father touched a live wire and one of these other parts simultanously, he would receive a shock. $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Oct 26 '12 at 21:43

You will not get a shock unless you complete the circuit to ground. This is why power lines can be worked on while live, from a helicopter:

Helicopter Power Line Maintenance

  • $\begingroup$ thanks for your answer and link to the video, because we more trust the things that we see :) $\endgroup$ – android developer Oct 26 '12 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ This makes sense, but in many years of birdwatching, I've never seen birds sitting on high voltage transmission lines. Why not? $\endgroup$ – Kirk Kuykendall Dec 7 '12 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @KirkKuykendall Because birds still have some capacitance. Think of the rods used to equalize the helicopter's potential with the line when they approach (you can't see it in the linked video here, but it's clear in youtube.com/watch?v=2dqRN0Z7-_o). For low voltage lines the impedence is high enough that current won't arc to the bird through the air. For high voltage lines, if the bird's potential is different (which it usually is), the potential difference is high enough that it will still probably shock the bird (like the rod in the video). $\endgroup$ – Jason C Mar 29 '15 at 15:30

Because birds stand on a same electric wires, they are at an electric potential. The reason why people can be shocked, is because a person's body is a conductor, and when we touch the wire, there is a high electric potential on electric wire. But when birds stand on wires, there are always on the same electric potential, so they won't get shocked.


A simple googling would've provided you an answer. We won't get a shock if we fly or when we aren't grounded... Because, Current flows only in closed circuits (Maybe in Plasma "as an open"). A bird sitting in the wire doesn't form a complete circuit in order for the current to flow. In other words, Birds have their feet in the same wire (It also has high resistance, Now, that's another problem).

I've seen many days, birds (like "crows" in our country) get shocks. Sometimes birds too touch the Phase and neutral (or Earthing) wires thereby creating a largest potential difference, get toasted & fall down. Not all birds are clever.

Imagine: Take a circuit with battery. Connect one terminal of the battery to a resistance and a galvanometer. Leave the other terminal open. If it shows deflection, then you'd solve your question and you'd definitely get a Nobel...

Have a look over this overview of the topic...


protected by Qmechanic Mar 12 '13 at 14:44

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