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Are wind turbines really that bad for birds?

Easy Answer: Yes. Somewhere between 58,000 and 440,000 birds each year die because of wind turbines.

Wind farms continue to spring up, as people look for alternative energy sources. I recently
did a story
about the Terra-Gen wind farm in the Mojave desert, one of the largest in the world. The problem with wind turbines is they are super good at killing birds--especially migratory songbirds. But are we really talking about enough birds to worry about?

I wrote to a bird expert named Albert Manville at the Fish and Wildlife Service to find out. I asked him how the number of birds killed by wind turbines compares to the number killed by windows, cats and cars compares. (According to a publication from the Fish and Wildlife Service, cats might kill 100s of millions of birds a year.)

This is what he told me.

"Comparing bird deaths from wind turbine collisions and barotrauma to other sources of mortality -- e.g., building windows, vehicles, cats, or communication towers -- is akin to trying to compare apples to kumquats. It confuses and muddies the waters. The bigger issue is one of cumulative impacts, specifically what mortality factor will become the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back." Will it be wind energy, new building windows, oil spills, or another source(s)? We simply don't know. While wind mortality may presently be relatively low, impacts are all about risk. The blade-caused collision death of 1 Whooping Crane becomes an impact to its entire population."

It's not just the turbine blades that are bad news for birds--wind farms can often disrupt and disturb habitat.

But, there are ways to minimize the problem: "Selecting the most wildlife- and habitat-friendly sites is critically important, and where wind is being developed in high risk areas, collisions could be reduced by blade "feathering" (idling), changes in blade cut-in speeds, setbacks, pylons replacing deadly turbines and other options."

Want more? Here's

Manville's paper

on minimizing the number of birds killed by wind turbines.

Photo credit: Flickr user brentdanley.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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