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Green Building News

Study Finds Wind Turbines a Lesser Threat to Birds

Cats are the big killers, a new assessment says, not utility-scale wind turbines

Wind turbines kill lots of birds, but not nearly as many as are killed by cats or collisions with cell phone towers, a new report says.

Although wind turbines are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of songbirds in North America annually, the combination of cats and cell phone and radio towers do much greater damage, according to a new report.

An article in USA Today said turbines are responsible for between 214,000 and 368,000 bird fatalities per year, while collisions with cell phone and radio towers account for 6.8 million deaths. Cats account for between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion deaths, although about two thirds of the cats were barn and feral cats, not house pets.

The newspaper said the peer-reviewed study was written by two federal scientists and an environmental consulting from called West Inc. The study was published at Plos One.

“We estimate that on an annual basis, less than 0.1% … of songbird and other small passerine species populations in North America perish from collisions with turbines,” the paper quoted lead author Wallace Erickson of Wyoming-based West as saying.

The estimates were based on 116 previous studies in the U.S.and Canada.

Reaction to turbine bird deaths has been mixed

The effect of wind farms on bird populations has long been a point of contention between environmental groups and the wind industry. Last year, wind turbines in 10 states were blamed for scores of eagle deaths.

Last November, Duke Energy Renewables agreed to pay a $1 million fine in connection with bird deaths at two Wyoming wind farms, the first time the federal government had used the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to prosecute bird fatalities.

Yet the National Audubon Society says it supports “properly sited wind power” because renewable energy ultimately reduces environmental threats to birds by lessening the impact of climate change. The Audubon society reported earlier in the month that hundreds of bird species were at “serious risk” from loss of habitat due to climate change.

Some bird species will lose nearly all of their current ranges, that report said, and more than 300 species are either endangered or threatened.

Terry Root of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, told USA Today that wind energy is a “growing solution to some of the more serious threats that birds face, since wind energy emits no greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change.”

2 Comments

  1. W D | | #1

    Birds and Wind Farms
    I'm wondering if the WIND industry is doing research to reduce the bird losses. Surely it's in their self interest.

    I have a large window on my house. If it's recently cleaned, birds will fly into it. If the window has some dust or a smear the birds see that and don't crash into the glass. It surprises me that something as ponderous as a wind turbine blade would catch a bird unawares but that's apparently the fact. What if streamers were attached to the blades? What if a predator model were part of the blade assembly? The fact that the blades rotate automatically provides a means to animate such a model. I have an owl model suspended from a 'mobile' that does a terrific job keeping birds from poking holes in the screens of a porch area.

    Then there's the venerable scarecrow.

    No one wants to lose endangered species because of turbines. It just seems to me the machines could be made a lot less lethal to the birds.

  2. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #2

    the never ending story...
    The disruption of nesting sites for wind (and other) power plants are a bigger factor in bird populations than bird strikes.

    Studies in the Netherlands demonstrated that it's the same bird-hit per turbine, independent of size- a 5 megawatt turbine kills the same number of birds as a 100kw turbine, even though it's swept area is much larger and it produces 50x the power. As turbine sizes have trended upward, the bird-deaths per terawatt-hour have fallen.

    That said, while cats kill a lot o' birds, I'll bet eagles are killing more cats than conversely. Raptor deaths while not off-the-charts high, need to be taken into account. Tip velocity on a 1 megawatt turbines can hit 100mph, and on 5 megawatt behemoths it can hit 180mph. This isn't something a soaring raptor is always going to see coming, especially if they're scanning the ground in front of them for food. Streamers on windmills would destroy efficiency and produce horrific vibration problems. There may be a solution, but that ain't it.

    (Also, shouldn't that read "properly SITED wind power", and not "properly cited wind power"??)

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