Study Shows Shocking Scope of Wind Turbine Bird Deaths

September 28, 2016 04:32 PM

Wind turbines have a bit of a reputation due to their role in killing local birds. But new research from Purdue University and the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that wind turbines could have contributed to the deaths of eagles that had flown hundreds of miles to meet their deaths.

The researchers looked at DNA from feathers of golden eagles killed at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource (APWRA) in northern California, which is home to one of the oldest, largest wind farms in the country. The research team determined that 75% of the birds belonged to the local population and the remaining 25% had migrated into the area.

The wind turbines can catch the eagles off-guard as they patrol for squirrels and other prey, explains J. Andrew DeWoody, Purdue professor of genetics.

"As they soar, these eagles are often looking straight down, and they fail to see the rapidly moving turbine blades,” he says. “They get hit by the blades, and carcasses are found on the ground under the turbines."

There are currently dozens of large wind farms in the U.S. with many more being proposed. Farmland and other rural locations are popular homes for them – one company alone, United Wind, hopes to reach out to as many as 10,000 farmers to spin this alternative energy source over the next 20 years.

Researchers estimate up to 328,000 birds and 1.6 million bats are killed annually worldwide at these facilities. Co-author Todd Katzner, a wildlife biologist with USGS, says their findings could affect environmental assessments for new wind turbine construction.

"If you only consider local birds in an environmental assessment, you're not really evaluating the effect that facility may have on the entire population," he says.

DeWoody says wind energy generators can receive permits that allow a number of unintended bird deaths before they receive fines. If a large percentage of birds killed are actually migrating from neighboring states, that could “muddy the management waters,” he says.

The researchers published their study findings in the journal Conservation Biology

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Spell Check

Grand Rapids, MI
9/29/2016 10:16 AM

  CJ's response is pretty representative of the fundamentalist, unsubstantiated mind set. Land does not devalue, people in proximity do not get cancer, and the costs of wind energy are on par with fossil fuel energy. Even if you agree with Mr. Trump that human caused climate change is a myth created by the Chinese, and you are fine with Mercury in our fish and sulfur dioxide in our air, wind energy jives just fine with my conservative philosophy, and you can build them on my farm anytime. Thank you.

Dan Fink
Masonville, CO
9/29/2016 10:23 AM

  Not a fair study. Altamont was built on an extremely poor site for migratory birds, before the potential effects of turbine on birds were known. Modern wind farms take this into account before any construction starts, and many new wind farms have systems that automatically shut down the turbines when bats are detected, or when an on-site biologist sees a raptor. Cell phone towers, building windows and cats each kill far more birds than wind turbines. Wind energy is already a valued part of our energy mix, and will become more and more important in the coming years.

Golden Eagle
Bay City, MI
11/24/2016 10:31 AM

  I don't know who created the climate change "myth," but the fact is climate change is normal and natural. Anyone who thinks the killing of birds at tall structures, ALL tall structures by the MANY millions is fine, needs to get an education about birds, healthy ecosystems and environmental science! The killing of migratory birds should be, and IS, a HUGE concern for everyone, even if you don't know it now!


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