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Wind Farms: Source of Energy or Threat to Birds?

For years, there has been a debate surrounding how much of a threat wind farms pose to birds.

While the verdict is still out, there are a few things that we know about wind farms and their effects on birds.

1. Wind farms kill birds (but not many)

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has been reported saying that U.S. wind turbines kill somewhere between 100,000 and 400,000 birds a year. While this is a lot of birds, supporters of wind turbines point to the fact that it is not a biologically significant number. One consultant agency reports that 50 to 100 million birds die by automobiles, 100 to 900 million die from glass windows and 100 million die by house cats every year. This, of course, does not make any bird death acceptable, since some of the bird deaths come from endangered or migratory birds.

2. Location of the wind farm matters a lot

The ABC released a statement at the beginning of the month stating that they support wind power only when it’s bird-smart. One of the criteria for bird-smart wind farms is the location. The most alarming number of turbine-related bird deaths came from Altamont Pass, California, where an estimated 10,000 birds died each year. One of the major reasons was its construction in an area highly populated with raptors. The ABC recommends staying away from nesting areas, wetlands, areas highly populated with raptors and migratory bottlenecks.

3. Newer turbine technology can minimize the threat

Old technology was another reason why there were so many bird deaths at Altamont Pass, which was built in the ’80s. New high-capacity turbine technology has the potential to significantly reduce the number of bird deaths. As the Tree Hugger site explains in a post, small blades with a low surface area tends to cause more bird deaths while huge blades with large surface areas cause fewer deaths.

4. Wind production kills fewer birds than gas and oil production… for now

After images of oiled birds appeared after the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast, which can be seen in an earlier post, the dangers of oil spills on wildlife became readily apparent. By some estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services, between 1 and 2 million birds die a year related to oil and gas extraction (not counting deaths from spills). According to ABC, if 20 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from wind, about 1 million will die from turbines if wind power is not bird-smart.

This issue is likely to remain prevalent for conservationists, environmentalists and bird enthusiasts as more evidence and statistics appear about the subject. For anyone who supports both wind farms and birds, you can sign a petition requesting all wind farms become bird-smart.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


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