Wind turbines and birds

Yesterday I wrote about the nocebo effect in wind turbine syndrome and a comment was made in that post about how windfarms kill birds. It is true that wind farms kill birds when they collide with the spinning blades but it is also true that the total number of deaths associated with wind farms is considerably smaller than other causes such as collisions with buildings, cars, communication towers and encounters with cats both feral and domestic.

A report published in the journal of Nature last year put the data into perspective and this is how it looks:

Wind2-1
Source: http://www.nature.com/news/the-trouble-with-turbines-an-ill-wind-1.10849

I think it is good to be concerned about our wildlife and to do all we can to protect the natural world and the wind farm industry is learning from this and making simple changes to improve the statistics. Some of the solutions involve the use of radars to detect incoming flocks of birds or making sure the turbines are not cited on known migration routes.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Bids (RSPB) in the UK is supportive of the wind turbine industry because they believe the biggest threat to birds is climate change. Here’s what they have to say:

Climate change poses the single greatest long-term threat to birds and other wildlife, and the RSPB recognises the essential role of renewable energy in addressing this problem.

So it seems to me that if we want to protect birds then the best way to do this would be to champion renewable energy and support the movement away from the burning of fossil fuels. At the very least, perhaps the criticism of wind farms should be redirected to criticism of automobiles, since they are responsible for 600 times more deaths than wind turbines.

25 thoughts on “Wind turbines and birds

  1. I have seen some of that data and much of it deals with absolute numbers rather than percentages. Windows get blamed for killing more birds in absolute terms but then, has anyone counted the number of windows in the U.K.?
    You will have a golden opportunity to test the nocebo effect during your stay in the U.K. Put your theory into practice.

  2. I guess the interesting calculation would be the impact on birds if (and when) we expand our use of wind turbines. There are, however, quite a few countries were it is a significant number of percent, so – presumably – we’d be looking at a factor of (say) 10 increase (assuming other sources are also used). In the USA that would imply a few million birds being killed by wind turbines, still much lower than cars, cats, agriculture. Having said that, the worry may well be (as the figure indicates) that raptors are particularly susceptible and so it would be good to have a better idea of the impact on raptors in particular.

    1. Yes, I think the greatest concern is that the birds being killed are those species that are already struggling for survival. I think there is one particularly bad wind farm in the USA, Altamont Pass, which has been cited on a migratory path. But they have already made changes – replacing lots of smaller turbines with fewer larger ones – and that has reduced the number of deaths considerably.

  3. Wind turbines are creating mortality on birds that aren’t at risk by cats or large buildings. The bigger birds like eagles, owls and raptors in general, are long-lived and have low reproductive rates. They’re like the grizzly bears of the bird world. They have no way to compensate for excessive mortality. As wind turbines proliferate, these and the many already at-risk, face extinction.

    1. Well let’s see what some of the other bird and wildlife societies think of wind turbines.

      The American Bird Conservancy thinks “wind power can be an important part of the solution to global warming”, provided bird-smart wind policies are implemented.
      (Source: http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/wind_faq.html)

      Audubon – society for the protection of birds – also endorses wind power. Their position is: “Audubon strongly supports properly-sited wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming.”
      (Source: http://policy.audubon.org/wind-power-overview-0)

      The Sierra club does as well. They say: “The Sierra Club strongly supports the development of substantial wind resources for electricity generation.”
      (Source: http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/wind_siting.aspx)

      Forest and Bird New Zealand is another supporter of well-sited wind farms. Their position: “Wind power ranks at the top of the list of preferred electricity sources, because it creates relatively little environmental impact.”
      (Source: http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/saving-our-environment/climate-change-/energy)

      It seems to me that every form of electricity generation is not without some impact. The best solutions are the ones that have the least impact and wind farms that are well-sited and properly regulated have far less of an impact on our environment and therefore on the welfare of birds and other wildlife than do traditional coal-fired power stations.

  4. Birds don’t stand a chance with wind turbines at full rotation of 200 kms per hour! The blades become invisible as with turbojet planes. At least they can spot a coal fired power station and know to avoid it. What is it exactly that causes birds to die from coal powered station? Asthma?

    1. Yes they do stand a chance. One of the strategies mentioned in the paper from Nature which I link to in my post, uses some sort of sensor to detect incoming flocks of birds. They can then stop the turbines all together and allow the birds to pass through without harm. That’s just one strategy.

      For information on the impact of coal and birds, see The American Bird Conservancy – Coal: Extraction and Energy Production Impacts on Birds – http://www.abcbirds.org/conservationissues/threats/energyproduction/coal.html

      1. The guy came into contact with his hedge trimmers, not a wind turbine. I’m not sure what your point is. Yes, there is lots of dangerous farm machinery.

      2. My point is that birds around wind turbines are having to fly through an invisible forest of blades every day. Who knows what impact that is going to have on bird species in countries with turbines scattered everywhere.

  5. If you are going to stop wind turbines every time a flock of birds passes through, they’ll be even more inadequate as an energy source than they are now. And even if it worked for a flock, one doubts that it can pick up a single bird such as the rare white-throated needletail munched up in the U.K. last week. What use is being eagle-eyed when you can’t see a revolving blade? Time to start thinking zero population growth so you wouldn’t need all this energy anyway.

      1. Perhaps we should be looking at nuclear then. So many other activities and man himself in ever growing numbers is destroying the habitats of so many animal species. My garden is filled with poor old turkeys (real ones) desperately trying to survive in suburbia!

      2. Yes, I am in favour of nuclear, especially next generation nuclear which plans to run on the nuclear waste already in existence.

    1. And the last three paragraphs are:

      “A spokeswoman said: “Whilst the collision of this unusual visitor with a small domestic wind turbine is very unfortunate, incidents of this sort are really very rare.

      “Careful choice of location and design of wind farms and turbines prevents, as much as possible, such occurrences happening on a large scale.”

      She added: “Wind energy makes a vital contribution towards mitigating the impacts of climate change, which is the biggest threat to our native birds and wildlife.”

      That all seems reasonable to me, unless for some very odd reason you have an objection to every form of renewable power and instead want to keep flogging the dead horse of coal-fired power. I do not understand why anyone would argue for coal power but then against wind power out of concern for birds. It is a very inconsistent and unusual position to take. As I said before, if you are really concerned about the birds, then you would be in favour of an end to the age of coal.

    1. The cost of wind power is becoming very competitive and once the true cost of coal is reflected in its price, I think wind will take over as the cheaper source of fuel.

    1. Interesting, thanks. There are certainly lots of wind farms in the UK. I see them everywhere. I think they look beautiful, but I realise that not everyone agrees with me.

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