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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds RSPB and windfarm opponents have found themselves at odds over the risk turbines pose to bird species, particularly birds of prey. There are reasons why birds are likely to be affected by windfarms. Wind developments tend to be placed in upland areas with strong wind currents that have a lot of potential to generate energy. Birds — particularly raptors like eagles or vultures — use these currents as highways — and so are likely to come into contact with the turbines.
Despite these concerns, the current body of research suggests windfarms have not significantly reduced bird populations. Several studies suggest birds have the ability to detect wind turbines in time and change their flight path early enough to avoid them. And one small study found no evidence for sustained decline in two upland bird species on a windfarm site after it had been operating for three years.
Another found that wild geese are able to avoid offshore wind turbines. It found that two of them- curlew and snipe — saw a drop in population during the construction phase, which did not recover afterwards. But the population of the other eight species were restored once the windfarms were built. Windfarms may not affect all birds, but what if they affect birds of prey disproportionately?
Large birds like hen harriers, eagles and vultures are also slower to reproduce than other species and so their populations are more likely to be affected by a small number of deaths. There are specific locations elsewhere in the world where windfarms have caused impressive-sounding numbers of fatalities amongst birds of prey.
In the Altamont Pass in California, for example, one study found about 4, wind turbines killed 67 golden eagles and 1, birds of prey in a year. In southern Spain , wind turbines located in an area used by many birds of prey and on the migratory path of many large birds killed a birds of prey in a year. At another location in southern Spain turbines killed 30 griffin vultures and 12 common kestrels. What evidence is the RSPB relying on?
There are studies to show that siting windfarms more sensitively can make a difference to how bird populations adapt to their new neighbours. In one frequently cited study, one windfarm in Spain created feeding sites away from turbines and shut down turbines at peak flight times. Vulture deaths were reduced by 50 per cent for an electricity production loss of just 0. But the turbines were set back slightly — with the result that ultimately very few birds are killed. According to Birdlife International , with a thorough environmental assessment as part of the planning process, bird deaths can be significantly reduced.
In Scotland for example, planners use maps to identify high risk areas for protected birds. Some wind farms, such as the Penescal windfarm in Texas, use radar systems to detect flocks of birds and shut off the wind turbines as they approach.
Lots of human activities kill birds. Several studies have compared the effect of different energy sources on bird mortality overall. One, published earlier this year , calculates windfarms killed 20, birds died in in the US — while nuclear plants killed about , and fossil fueled power plants more than 14 million.
US estimates published last year in a commentary piece in the journal Nature, although highly uncertain, also suggest the impact of wind turbine is far smaller than many other causes of bird death:.
Climate change is predicted to harm bird populations by affecting breeding or migration patterns , or altering their habitats. The few studies on windfarm siting are also encouraging, indicating that it can be used as an effective tool to reduce mortality.
Compared to other aspects of modern society, careful planning can lead to much-reduced mortality. Environment minister Owen Paterson introduced an interesting take on windfarm siting in an interview on Radio 4 this weekend - the angle of the trees. Wiltshire County Council is split over new local regulations that would prevent wind turbines from being constructed because of alleged risk to residents from blades breaking off the…. Wind turbines are essentially small buckets of lubricating oil on top of a large metal stick, with rotating wings attached.
Add a strike of lightning, a short circuit…. Heatwaves have an amplified impact in cities, causing disproportionate discomfort, health risks and mortality rates - an effect that's expected to worsen as temperatures rise, according to new….
Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. Carbon Brief Staff Wildlife Bird death and wind turbines: Why birds are affected There are reasons why birds are likely to be affected by windfarms. Wind turbines and birds of prey Windfarms may not affect all birds, but what if they affect birds of prey disproportionately? A comparison of deaths — what else kills birds?
US estimates published last year in a commentary piece in the journal Nature, although highly uncertain, also suggest the impact of wind turbine is far smaller than many other causes of bird death: Keeping the Lights On: You have been signed up successfully.