Should We Pay More Attention To Bird Deaths Due To Wind Turbines?

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Bird Deaths Due To Wind Turbines

This guest post is by Endre Rex-Kiss of Freedom Solar Power Inc.

Despite being a clean, natural source of renewable energy that could power our lights, electronics, and electric underfloor heating without burning fossil fuels, new wind farm developments often face criticism from nearby citizens and anti-wind advocacy groups.  While anti-wind advocacy groups have numerous complaints against these wind energy projects, one of the primary criticisms is that wind turbines are responsible for killing large numbers of birds.  Anti-wind advocacy groups often use language such as “bird blenders”, “bird mincers”, and “eagle killers” to inflame anger against these clean energy sources.  What is the effect of wind turbines on bird mortality?

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Bird Deaths Due To Wind Turbines

The actually number of bird deaths due to wind turbines per year varies greatly depending on who you ask.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Sevice puts the number at half a million per year across the United States, while the American Wind Energy Association estimates the annual kill count at 150,000 deaths annually.  While more research may be needed, it seems safe to place the estimate at between 150,000 to 500,000 annually, based on our current data and knowledge.

But while those numbers may seem high, some experts have estimated that if the nation’s fossil fuel energy reliance were converted to wind power, some 14 million bird lives per year would be saved.  When it comes to wildlife mortality rates, wind turbines have relatively little effect compared to other environmentally dangerous sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas extraction, and even compared to Nuclear and Hydro sources.  Only solar energy could be considered safer.  And despite the large increase in solar panel installers across the nation over the past decade, solar energy currently makes up a negligible amount of the nation’s energy output.

Most forms of fossil fuel generation have the potential to cause large scale population level mortality as well as habitat destruction, which can reduce biodiversity and threaten endangered species.  Wind energy at worst can only cause limited, extremely localized mortality, with no population level effects, and they’re also extremely unlikely to cause widespread habitat destruction or threaten biodiversity, especially with responsible planning.  Based on these facts and numbers, replacing old energy sources with wind farms would have a net positive impact on the bird and bat population.

The reality is that anywhere humans live, the local wildlife suffers.  With birds specifically, the largest human causes of bird deaths every year are:

  • Window impacts: 97 million to 976 million
  • House cats: 500+ million
  • High tension wire impacts: 174+ million
  • Pesticides: 72+million
  • Cars: 60+ million

These numbers far exceed any of the estimated mortality rates attributed to wind turbines.  So why is there such an outcry against wind turbines, while little is heard about banning windows, house cats, or cars?  Perhaps a large part of the criticism of wind turbines arises due to their physical appearance.  They’re tall, highly visible from all directions, and their rapidly spinning blades look like a death sentence for any living creature that is unfortunate enough to get close.   However, a part of the criticism is also based on the fact that there is currently little in the way of regulation when it comes to wind farms and bird conservation issues.  Despite the relatively low number of birds killed by wind turbines vis-a-vis other human developments, it’s still an issue that needs attention.  More funding into research could help design turbines and systems to further reduce bird mortality, and regulation can help ensure that wind farms are constructed in areas that will minimize their impact on the local bird population.  But as the U.S. government ramps up plans to shift 20% of America’s energy needs to wind power, there will certainly be more bird deaths.

While completely halting wind energy projects due to bird deaths is unreasonable given the massive death toll on birds effected by fossil fuel extraction, efforts should be taken to ensure that new wind farms are not constructed in major bird migration routes, or where rare, endangered predators such as golden and bald eagles flock to nest.  At the moment, the government only has voluntary guidelines for the wind industry when it comes to bird conservation measures.  Perhaps, as wind energy becomes a more and more critical part of the world’s energy sources, further research and stricter regulation is needed to further minimize the impact wind farms have on precious wildlife and the delicate ecosystems they inhabit.

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About Endre Rex-Kiss

Endre Rex-Kiss is a sustainability advocate, with a keen interest in promoting green technologies through social media. He is freelance writer for companies in the green energy business like Rayotec, a UK based company providing electric underfloor heating installations, for residential and commercial properties.

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