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Monday, August 07, 2006

Tilting at windmills?

So, somebody wants to put a wind farm in your backyard. Maybe you want it, maybe you don't. Then somebody comes along and says that it might kill lots of birds. So, what do you do? How many birds get killed by windmills, anyway?

Here's what we know: researchers have found that on most modern wind farms, each turbine kills an average of 2.3 birds each year (read the latest NWCC report here).

So if they want to put a monster 500 turbine wind farm in your county, that might kill an estimated (reaching for the calculator...) 1150 birds a year. Still sounds like a lot?

It is estimated that the average house kills around 10 birds a year that smack into its nice picture windows. The average outdoor cat may kill 10 birds each year as well. There are about 100 million homes in the U.S. and maybe that many cats as well. Are you doing the math? We're looking at something like a billion birds killed by windows, and another billion killed by cats, each and every year. With an estimated 20 billion birds in the U.S. each fall, windows and cats may be killing about 10% of all birds every year.

How does that stack up against birds killed by windows. If you crunch the numbers found here, you'll find that there are currently something like 17,800 wind turbines in the U.S. At 2.3 birds per turbine, that's 40,940 birds killed by windmills each year.

Of course, these are estimates. There are some windfarms that kill more birds. Others kill fewer birds. If someone is proposing a windfarm in your area, make sure that they do their environmental studies to show that they're not going to build it in a major migratory pathway, or near too many nesting hawks or eagles. See if you can get them to do ongoing monitoring of the windfarm to make sure that they aren't killing inordinate numbers of birds.

All in all, the habitat destruction that takes place putting in the service roads for the windmills will probably be more damaging than the windmills themselves. Again, if you have a chance, make sure that those impacts are addressed. Maybe there should be some mitigation for habitat destroyed. Its probably going to come down to what you and your county are able to negotiate.

If wind developers do their homework, and do a good job choosing a site, then there shouldn't be too big a problem with a windfarm killing birds. If you want to oppose a windfarm on aesthetic grounds, that's another thing. Just remember that the window you have to look through to see the local windfarm is actually killing at least as many birds as the windmills themselves.

Now, that said, wind power's ability to reduce our need for fossil fuel burning needs for electricity generation is another question entirely...


Anonymous said...

Good lord. Problem A is bad. Problem B is as bad or worse. OK, then, don't worry about Problem A. You know as well as I do that the 2.3 average does NOT include ridgeline sites or offshore sites - it was based on studies at sites in the midwest. We don't have studies for ridgeline and offshore sites - which is where very large numbers of wind farms are going up. There was a time when I genuinely believed that most of the wind industry really wanted to do what it could to minimize avian deaths and injuries, but no longer. Over the past year or so, as they have found that they are winning the PR battle and each of the local challenges, they are just putting on a show of being concerned. The environmental groups are being coopted into a green screen for wind industry. Oh, and stop saying "if properly sited." We don't know what that is, and lately, the wind industry has shown little or no interest in cooperating to get that research done. Yes, there are still some good players, but the industry as a whole...PULLLEEEEZ! They want to put a wind farm right in front of Padre Island! Pretty much any site right at the edge of the Gulf Coast would be a disaster.

birdchaser said...

Good points. We need to hold their feet to the fire on this. We need continued monitoring so that we can better know what a "proper site" is. One thing that I might add...a couple years ago the estimate was 2.19 birds killed at each turbine. Now its 2.3. With more studies, I think its quite possible we'll see that total go up higher.

I'm not advocating rolling over on this issue...just that we should be very vigilent about it, hopefully without losing sight of and addressing some of our bigger problems--windows, cats, habitat destruction, etc.

Anonymous said...

The estimate for birds killed by house windows sounds too high to me, is there a reference on that?
I have lived in a lot of houses for a lot of years, and I would say 2 or 3 a year on average. (Now I have put UV reflectors on my windows; it's working so far...)

birdchaser said...

More on the magnitude of the windows issue on this NPR story. The most recent scientific studies of this issue by Dan Klem are online here. Any estimate like this is going to be a little controversial--but they are backed up by the best studies we have so far. While this number always seems high to people, mostly because we don't notice it happening as often as the studies show. But chances are against you being right next to a window to notice when a bird hits it. And even if it flies away, you won't be around to see what the studies also show--about 50% of the birds that fly away from a window strike still end up dying from their injuries. Its a major issue.

Anonymous said...


Another blog referred me to yours are I was interested the topic of wind farms and bird deaths. Your article is a good summary. I would to even publish it on full on my blog. Would you have any objection to that, if I refered to the source.

Marrickville - People Against Global Warming

birdchaser said...

Go ahead and quote away.

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