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Wind turbines such as these in Iowa, USA, account for untold, but now more reliably estimated, bird strike deaths - similar numbers are likely to apply to some extent to Britain as well. Photo: Jim Hammer (commons.wikimedia.org).
Wind turbines such as these in Iowa, USA, account for untold, but now more reliably estimated, bird strike deaths - similar numbers are likely to apply to some extent to Britain as well. Photo: Jim Hammer (commons.wikimedia.org).Enlarge image

Wind farm bird deaths more than thought


Posted on: 21 Jul 2013

New research from the United States indicates that bird deaths from wind farm collisions may have been underestimated by up to 30 per cent.

After the sad death of the White-throated Needletail on Harris, Outer Hebrides, on 26 June when it hit the shaft of a wind turbine on the island, some birders were vocal in their disapproval of the prominent energy generators, proclaiming them to be killers of bird in large numbers. While some of these claims were somewhat exaggerated, it turns out that they may indeed be more dangerous than thought previously.

A new study just published in the United States has estimated that around 573,000 birds were killed by wind turbines in 2012 (including 83,000 birds of prey), in increase of 30 per cent on a previous estimate by the US fish and Wildlife Service in 2009. Bats are even worse hit, says author K Shawn Smallwood, and probably top 888,000 killed per year.

Clearly this has serious implications for the renewable energy industry, which bases much of its investment and publicity on the safety and environmental sustainability of the machines. Smallwood also believes his figures are underestimated, owing to the incompleteness if reports of bird and bat deaths from different states, in particular Texas.

Added to this, wind farm legislation in the USA is being loosened, with permits to allow the killing of Bald and Golden Eagles, Whooping Crane, Piping Plover and California Condor by wind turbines all under review or being granted in some states.  

Despite being based in incomplete data, Smallwood suggests that there should be greater transparency in reporting the deaths of flying animals in the States as well as a cross-state standard method of measuring and comparing figures. Even so, the increase in deaths suggested by the more rigorous statistical methods are worrying indeed, and should provide justifiable concern for both conservationists and the renewable energy industry in Britain and Europe.

Reference
Smallwood, K Shawn. 2013. Comparing bird and bat fatality-rate estimates among North American wind-energy projects. Wildlife Society Bulletin 37: 19-33.


24 comments so far...

1.Jim Wiegand
21 Jul 2013 17:58
Mortality at Wind farms has been covered up for decades. Not even 10% is reported. Altamont Pass is reporting better than most at about 10-20%. The public has not a clue how corrupt this industry is. I do because I read over their bogus reports and see all their little tricks that manipulate data.

The wind industry has virtually no regulations or oversight and Wildlife agencies and has been covering for them since the early 1980's. Conservation groups came on board later but they too have been corrupted.

Since the early 1980's only one wind industry report I have seen was designed to tell the truth. It was conducted at the San Gorgonio wind farm in Southern CA by an ornithologist named McCrary (1986). His study gave a mortality estimate of 6800 per year or about 35 birds per MW. This report has been buried by the industry but may be available at some university libraries.

I happen to know of a single turbine in Delaware that was reported to be killing about 82 birds and bats per year. This may sound like a lot but after looking over the study I believe they covered up over 95% of the mortality. With their tiny searches on the gravel area around the turbine, all the data collected using flawed search intervals, flawed searcher efficiency and flawed scavenger removal rates are completely meaningless. Two gulls seen killed by this turbine were not even counted because they fell out side their designated little search area. The study is a complete disgrace.

The reality is that wind industry studies are designed to hide mortality. If the industry wanted to disclose the truth 24 hour surveillance with various imaging capabilities would have been put on turbines over 20 years ago. In fact the deception and fraud perpetrated by this industry and their supporters is so bad that they might as well all be selling used cars with their odometers turned back 90%. This is how bad it really is.

2.dwardawea1
25 Jul 2013 18:08
No one takes the issue of wildlife impacts more seriously than the wind industry. While some birds do occasionally collide with wind turbines, modern wind power plants are cumulatively far less harmful to birds than other man-made structures, human activities, and sources of energy generation.

Further, many experts agree the number of bird fatalities associated with wind energy production is much lower than this article claims, and this cited figure is the opinion of one biologist and not the definitive source of information on this subject. With that in mind, based on preliminary analysis of data collected from more than 100 wind farms presented at the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative biennial research meeting in November 2012 it is estimated that approximately 200,000 birds collide with turbines annually at current installed wind energy capacity (60+ Gigawatts – enough to power the equivalent of over 15 million homes). This number pales in comparison to other sources like buildings (97-970 million), telecommunication towers (4-5 million), and oil and waste water pits at oil and gas production fields (2-3 million), among other causes of mortality.

Regarding enforcement of federal wildlife regulations, it is worth noting that the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act has broad sweeping implications. It is a strict-liability law, meaning that anyone who kills even one bird, either knowingly or unknowingly could be prosecuted for violating the act. However, in order to have a functioning society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) uses its discretion to enforce this regulation and focuses those enforcement efforts on those entities who kill migratory birds without identifying and implementing reasonable and effective measures to mitigate these impacts.

(to be continued in the comment below)
3.dwardawea1
25 Jul 2013 18:08

To that end, wind developers coordinate closely with the USFWS throughout the siting process. We do more to study, monitor, and mitigate for the impacts associated with project development and operation than any other energy sector. When unforeseen impacts have been identified, the plant operators have worked with the USFWS to address their concerns. Further, the wind industry is making every effort to work proactively with regulators and the conservation community to improve siting practices and further reduce the comparatively small impacts on migratory birds of all kinds.

Finally, generating electricity from wind does not create air or water pollution, greenhouse gases, use water, require mining or drilling for fuel, or generate hazardous waste that requires permanent storage, and as a result represents the lowest impact form of energy generation available to our society today. This is further reinforced by the findings of a qualitative analysis conducted in 2009 on behalf of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which found that of all the energy sources evaluated (i.e. coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, and wind), wind energy has by far the lowest cradle-to-grave lifecycle impacts on wildlife and their habitats.

No energy source – or really any human activity for that matter - is completely free of impacts. But, the decision America faces is how we will power our country and make choices after weighing the costs and benefits. Wind energy is the right choice.

John Anderson, Director of Siting Policy, AWEA
4.Andrew Haynes
25 Jul 2013 22:09
Domestic fans have mesh grills to prevent accidents. Why don't wind turbines have equivalent protection?
5.Jim Wiegand
26 Jul 2013 00:07
This is for John Anderson, Director of Siting Policy, AWEA, I can tell by your comments that you know almost nothing about wildlife or the studies being conducted on behalf of the Wind industry. Read my next article you will learn how wind industry studies are being designed to hide millions of fatalities.

And despite what you have written no other energy source comes close to killing rare species like the wind industry does. The mortality footprint from wind farms is also unique in that it extends thousands of miles from each turbine. I also believe that if the public were made aware of the extinction of species coming from your turbines and the mountain of bogus studies your industry has produced, they would want nothing to do with your sales pitch or line of business. I also believe the majority of people once hearing the truth about wind turbine impacts, would rather conserve energy and pay more for other forms of electricity just to shut down these turbines.

I suggest we have an open meeting before Congress and put the facts on the table and let public can decide what is best. You can bring all the so called experts you want and I will stand alone with pile of bogus FWS and wind industry documents that we can talk about. We can also discuss the rapidly declining whooping cranes and the production of bird safe turbine designs.


I will finish by saying I write because am trying to save vulnerable species from your deadly turbines.............You write so your business can keep on killing them and then call it incidental.
6.PeterSim
31 Jul 2013 15:41
Jim Wiegend: I suggest you read your comment again, you may see how ludicrous it is, and it's clearly because you're too emotionally attached to your belief that wind turbines are killing millions of birds. "The mortality footprint from wind farms is also unique in that it extends thousands of miles from each turbine." Makes you sound like you are delusional, especially as you don't attempt to explain such a statement.

The truth is actually the exact opposite, so I hope you'll read this http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/04/wind-farms-and-birds and gain some comfort, when you find out that deaths of birds from wind farms are hugely less than those from buildings, fossil-fuel power stations, nuclear power stations, communications masts, automobiles and the ever present domestic cat. So you can relax about wind farms, they are actually killing less birds than almost everything. Know how many birds fly into windows without net curtains every year? Should we ban windows, or perhaps force people to have net curtains?
Of course no bird deaths from turbines would be ideal, and thee is certainly a case for planning ensuring they are not erected on flight paths, migration routes or close to raptor nests, but this is already done in the UK, the RSPB has a say in every planning application, and rejects approx. 6% on these grounds. Do you have nothing like this in the US?

Of course you may choose not to read, or believe, anything on the site I've given a link to, you may be already far too sure of yourself and your opposition to wind turbines, which strikes me, as a newcomer to your rhetoric, a trifle unhinged; you appear to be claiming the wind 'industry' is intent on making birds extinct, or at the very least is totally unconcerned about it. Nothing could be further from the truth, most in the industry are committed environmentalists and care as much for the natural world as anyone. While you appear more anti-wind turbine than pro anything, aren't you just using birds?
7.PeterSim
31 Jul 2013 16:05
In the US in 2009 fossil fueled power plants killed more than 14 million birds, while windfarms killed 20,000, and if that is really to be revised upwards, it still leaves a huge difference. Why no article about fossil fuel plants? They are also adding to climate change with the worst CO2 emissions of all power generators, and the RSPB [UK] says it supports wind power - not because windfarms pose a lower risk to birds than other energy sources - but because in its view climate change poses the "single greatest long-term threat" to bird species.

Climate change is predicted to harm bird populations by affecting breeding or migration patterns, or altering their habitats, the fact they pose a lesser risk than all other power generation suggests they are the only ethical means, including for those concerned about birds.

Obviously if designs can be made which mitigate the harm, so much the better. We'll never reach zero, but when you remember how many birds die flying against windows ... I have personally witnessed three bird deaths agaianst windows in my house in the three years I have been here. Multiply that by the number of houses and you'll get an idea. American autos kill 60-80 million annually too.
8.Jim Wiegand
31 Jul 2013 16:17
Peter; Just because you can not grasp what I am writing about does not mean what I say is ludicrous. It simply means you are a fool or ignorant. You certainly are no expert on wildlife matters. If you were you would have told me. Then I would have publicly crucified you with facts. I am an expert on what I write about and would love to have a public face off against any expert or panel of experts in the world about wind turbine mortality and the mass slaughter of protected species. Wind farms are turning remote pockets of wildlife habitat into killing fields. These are for RARE AND PROTECTED species that will not be flying into buildings. They are being smashed out of the sky by turbine blades with 200 mph tip speeds. .
Goodhue County, MN put up a several year battle and defeated this industry. They were unified in effort to save their eagles and other species from these turbines. I helped to educate these people on wind industry ways and bogus studies. Project developers knew a court battle was inevitable and because it meant the industry's hidden mortality impacts would be publicly revealed in a courtroom, they left town.
They know their data would never not hold up and no matter what experts or representatives from conservation groups they called in for testimony, they would all look like idiots trying to protect this industry with their bogus studies.


9.PeterSim
31 Jul 2013 16:19
4.Andrew Haynes 25 Jul 2013 22:09
Domestic fans have mesh grills to prevent accidents. Why don't wind turbines have equivalent protection?

Turbines are usually very tall, and turn relatively slowly compared to fans. A mesh grill to cover three moving blades would be both heavy and difficult to fit since there is only a tower holding the blades. And birds would still fly into the mesh.
10.Jim Wiegand
31 Jul 2013 16:21
Everyone reading this should take a close look at the Shepherds Flat wind project in Oregon from Google earth. The developers took virtually the only available wildlife habitat left in the region and stuffed it with deadly rotor sweep. In a pocket of land surrounded by intense farming they put in about 25 million square feet of rotor sweep with tip speeds of 200 mph. Now this habitat has become a mortality trap with a several thousand mile footprint for local and migratory species. What is taking place at Shepherds Flat is taking place in dwindling pockets of wildlife habitat all over the country.
The fact is that this endangered bat, whopping cranes, condors, golden eagles, bald eagles or any other species means very little to this industry. Otherwise they would not have use gag orders to silence people (witnesses) or be rigging studies to cover up mortality and cumulative impacts. We would also have an accurate population count for the declining whooping cranes. But then again this would mean more lies and posturing for the FWS or they would actually have to do something about these damn turbines
No matter how anyone feels about wind turbines, no one should condone the corruption, the silent fraud, and bogus studies created to support this industry.
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