Wind Energy and Bird Mortality – Addressing Environmental Concerns

Wind Energy and Bird Mortality Addressing Environmental Concerns

Birds play an essential role in our ecosystem. While their numbers continue to decrease, their presence on Earth helps maintain its balance.

Wind energy is a renewable resource that can contribute significantly to our environmental wellbeing. Unfortunately, its development does have an impact on wildlife, so this must be taken into account when considering new wind farms.

Reducing Bird Mortality

Bird mortality is one of the primary environmental risks associated with wind energy. Studies have demonstrated that turbines cause bird deaths at levels which may be harmful for birds, particularly migratory songbirds and raptors (hawks and eagles).

In the U.S., estimates suggest that up to 500,000 birds are killed each year by wind turbines. While this number is far lower than collisions with communications towers (6.5 million); power lines (22.5 million); windows; and cats, wind turbines still pose a serious hazard for birds.

Reducing bird deaths requires new technologies and better siting strategies, as well as collaboration between developers, regulators, and environmental groups.

Reducing Bird Damage

Many are worried about the effects of wind power on birds, yet this renewable resource can help combat climate change and enhance our planet. Organizations such as Cornell Lab, American Bird Conservancy and Audubon Society all emphasize the significance of correctly sited wind power to ensure bird populations flourish.

Though most birds do not die from turbine collisions, some high-conservation-value species such as golden and bald eagles, hawks and falcons, prairie falcons, kites and owls may be vulnerable due to their habit of soaring in the air searching for prey. These vulnerable species must also consider what effect wind turbines could have on their habitats.

To minimize wildlife impacts, the wind industry employs pre- and post-development studies, educated siting practices, as well as impact reduction tools like turbine positioning. These strategies have enabled nearly 90 percent of American wind farms to avoid eagle killings or other harm to wildlife.

Reducing Bird Noise

Wind energy development poses numerous challenges, but one that has drawn much debate: the potential impact on birds. Critics claim turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds annually, including songbirds.

However, the industry notes that these deaths pale in comparison to bird fatalities caused by cats and power lines.

Another problem is that the number of bird deaths caused by wind turbines may be overestimated due to a lack of public data. Unfortunately, wind companies do not always make their bird mortality studies public and some retain proprietary control over this information.

Research is ongoing to identify the most effective way to reduce bird collisions and deaths due to wind turbines. To do this, researchers need to understand which variables contribute to collision risk and whether certain turbine types tend to have higher or lower fatality rates.

Reducing Bird Encounters

Birds are an inevitable part of the wind energy landscape, but there are ways to minimize bird encounters. These include siting facilities away from high-risk areas, temporarily shutting down turbines when target species are observed nearby, and visually and aurally discouraging birds from near facilities.

California Energy Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife have collaborated on guidelines that help minimize bird impacts caused by wind energy development, such as planning ahead for high-risk areas. Furthermore, they suggest avoiding wind farms which could negatively impact migrating birds or important wildlife habitat.

Advanced equipment and physical modifications, such as brightly painting the outsides of turbines, can help reduce bird collisions. Turbines also can be made to shut down when collisions are detected, which could help save nocturnal fliers.