We’ve compiled these resources to help you learn more about wind energy and birds. Find out about our policy on wind energy, learn about birds impacted, read press releases and comment letters, and more.
Wind power can be an important part of the solution to pollution and climate change, but turbines also kill hundreds of thousands of birds — from eagles to songbirds, some endangered — and bats annually through collisions with turbines. Turbines can also harm wildlife through loss of habitat and disturbance.
By 2030, there will likely be more than 100,000 wind turbines in the U.S., and these are expected to kill over 1.4 million birds each year — probably significantly more. Wind energy facilities are also expected to impact more than 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat and over 4,000 square miles of marine habitat by 2030, some of it critical to threatened species.
To be a truly green source of energy, wind power needs to be “Bird-Smart.” That means wind power employs careful siting, operation and construction mitigation, monitoring, and compensation to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss from wind energy development.
These are issues that should be included in mandatory federal wind standards. All wind energy projects should employ Bird-Smart principles and comply with relevant state and federal wildlife protection laws.
Information ABC Needs to Evaluate and Prioritize its Involvement in Wind Energy Projects
Bird-Smart wind power involves careful siting considerations, mitigation, post-construction monitoring of bird (and bat) deaths, and compensation to reduce and redress unavoidable mortality and habitat loss.
These are issues that the federal government should include in mandatory wind standards. For terrestrial wind farms, Bird-Smart wind should address:
Although offshore wind power is not yet operational in the U.S., an analogous set of siting, operating, and compensatory measures need to be developed to make it bird-smart. ABC is currently in the process of developing a policy on offshore wind energy development and recently assisted the Biodiversity Conservation Institute in developing some guidelines and considerations for offshore wind energy development for the state of New York.
All wind energy projects should have an Avian Protection Plan which includes ABC’s Bird-Smart principles, and a means of implementing them and tracking and reporting on this implementation. Wind farms should also comply with relevant state and federal wildlife protection laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.
See section above on pre-construction monitoring and post-construction monitoring.
The federal government released voluntary wind-energy guidelines in 2012 that were produced from recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior by a Federal Advisory Committee. During the public comment period on those proposed voluntary guidelines and during subsequent comment periods, ABC urged that that the Department of the Interior enact mandatory standards that the industry must follow. We do not believe that energy industries should be able to choose whether or not to consider bird impacts.
Potentially all night-migrating songbirds are at risk of colliding with wind turbines, as are raptors and other birds when wind energy facilities are sited in areas they frequent. Habitat loss is also an issue as wind facilities can degrade bird habitat or cause birds to abandon habitat.
Golden Eagles will be especially impacted because much of the additional wind build-out planned for the western United States is expected to occur in areas they inhabit. Bald Eagle habitat has not been impacted as much yet, as offshore wind energy development has not yet occurred in the U.S.
But that is about to change as hundreds of square miles are being leased off U.S. coasts for both wind and oil extraction. The Great Lakes, one of the most important migratory corridors for neotropical migrants, is also being targeted for large-scale wind energy development. The endangered Whooping Crane will be exposed to additional risk from collision with new power lines erected to service wind farms along their migratory pathways.
To Greater Sage-Grouse and some other birds, any tall structure such as a wind turbine is a threat because it is a potential perch for a predatory bird. A wind turbine standing a considerable distance away has much the same effect as a small tree at a few hundred yards, causing sage-grouse to abandon traditional lekking grounds up to three miles away from a wind energy project.
Unfortunately for the sage-grouse, Wyoming — one of this bird’s last remaining strongholds — is slated for significant wind energy build-out. It is very important for the future of the Greater Sage-Grouse that this development is appropriately sited and restricted.
The science is clear that significant numbers of birds and bats are being killed by wind turbines.
Smallwood (2013) reviewed bird and bat fatalities from 31 different wind facilities in the U.S. After correcting for observer error and predator removal of carcasses, he estimated that 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats were being killed by U.S. wind energy facilities at 2012 build-out levels. That number is expected to swell exponentially as the country moves towards its goal of having 20 percent of its electrical energy come from wind by 2030.
Loss et al. (2013) looked exclusively at the impact of monopole turbines on birds. Based on 68 studies, the authors estimated that wind turbines kill some 239,000 birds annually. However, they predicted that by 2030 or earlier, wind turbines could be killing 1.4 million birds annually.
Additionally, the authors found that bird collision mortality is correlated with increasing hub height. Across a range of turbine heights from 36 to 80 meters, the study predicts a staggering tenfold increase in bird mortality. A Department of Energy report cited by the authors found that the average height of U.S. wind turbines increased by a staggering 50 percent between 1998 and 2012.
Erickson et al. (2014) estimated that 238,000 birds were being killed in the U.S. annually by wind turbines, including 134,000-230,000 small passerines. However, this study did not include some of the worst-killing wind facilities, nor did it extrapolate the findings to future build-out. When this is done, the estimate still reaches 1-2.5 million birds lost annually.
It is likely that all of these studies represent underestimates of actual bird and bat kills. Observer bias and predator removal of carcasses make it difficult to obtain accurate data on bird and bat mortality. In the case of offshore wind energy, carcass retrieval is nearly impossible. In addition, wind energy companies collect the mortality data themselves, thus creating a direct conflict of interest.
Whooping Cranes and some other birds are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Golden Eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BAGEPA), and most migratory birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
Unfortunately, neither the BAGEPA nor the MBTA are currently sufficiently enforced to prevent predicted mortality resulting from wind development. Despite widespread bird (and bat) deaths at wind energy projects, to date, only two companies have been prosecuted for killing federally-protected birds.
Our Wind Risk Assessment Map is built on data from multiple sources. Below is a list of the sources that provided significant data:
The boundaries of these areas were therefore set based on ABC’s best expert judgment as to where the greatest concentration of birds will be present during regular migration periods.
Various methods have been proposed that certainly have potential to reduce bird and bat kill. However, until they are tested, how would we know if they are effective in reducing wildlife deaths?
Unfortunately, with few exceptions (e.g., ultrasound deterrents for bats), many of these methods have not been systematically tested for their efficacy. It is therefore important that research on the efficacy of various mitigation methods is tested as soon as possible.
The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recently stated that, “…technologies to minimize impacts at operational facilities for most species are either in early stages of development or simply do not exist.” (Read more.)
USGS is currently supporting numerous research projects on related topics, but it will be some time before the results are available.