Wind Energy & Birds
Do wind energy projects harm birds? Incidental losses of individual birds at turbine sites occur, but they will always be an extremely small fraction of bird deaths caused by human activities.The reality is that wind power is far less harmful to birds than the fossil fuels it displaces. In fact, the Audubon Society states that “climate change is the greatest threat to birds and biodiversity since humans have been on the planet.” Audubon’s position on wind power is that the organization strongly supports properly sited wind turbines.
Here are the facts about wind energy and birds:
- Wind is the only source of energy that does not present population-level risks to birds, according to a study (PDF 1.7 MB) of coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, and wind power conducted by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
- According to a National Academy of Sciences report, wind turbines are estimated to cause less than three out of every 100,000 human-related bird deaths in the United States and will never cause more than a very small fraction no matter how extensively wind power is used in the future.
- According to a USDA Forest Service study (PDF), wind power causes far fewer bird fatalities (approximately 108,000 a year) than buildings (550 million), power lines (130 million), cars (80 million), poisoning by pesticides (67 million), domestic cats (at least 10 million), and radio and cell towers (4.5 million).
Erickson, W.P.; Wolfe, M.M.; Bay, K.J.; Johnson, D. H.; Gehring, J.L. (2014). A Comprehensive Analysis of Small-Passerine Fatalities from Collision with Turbines at Wind Energy Facilities. This comprehensive peer-reviewed study provides the most detailed analysis to date of the impact of bird fatalities at wind energy facilities in North America and is the first to measure the relative impact of those fatalities on populations of small passerines, including songbirds.
National Wildlife Federation
In a report titled Shifting Skies: Migratory Birds in a Warming World. Urgent Action Needed to Protect Birds and their Habitat (PDF 8.5 MB), the National Wildlife Federation details how a warming climate could lead to a decline in some bird populations and even some extinctions if action is not taken to curb carbon pollution and adopt climate-smart conservation strategies.
The Altamont Pass in northern California was one of the first wind projects installed and remains the only wind development area in the United States that experiences significant bird deaths, specifically raptors or birds of prey. In 1994, shortly after raptor deaths in the Altamont Pass became a general concern, the wind energy industry joined with government officials, environmental groups, and utilities to form the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC), aimed at addressing the avian issue as well as others affecting the industry’s future. NWCC sponsors meetings and academic papers to further understanding of wind energy’s wildlife impacts and provides updates to the environmental community about the latest wind-related research, along with events related to the biological significance of wind’s impacts. The NWCC formed the Grassland Community Collaborativeand the Sage Grouse Research Collaborative and also sponsored a wind project permitting handbook. The NWCC is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and is facilitated by the American Wind Wildlife Institute.
- National Wind Coordinating Collaborative. (October 2007). Critical Literature Review: Impact of Wind Energy and Related Human Activities on Grassland and Shrub-Steppe Birds (PDF 1 MB). This report examines the actual and potential impacts of wind energy facilities on grassland and shrub-steppe avian species.
Sandercock, B. (May 2013). Environmental Impacts of Wind Power Development on the Population Biology of Greater Prairie-Chickens. A 7-year study by Kansas State University researchers shows that developing wind farms in Kansas has had little effect on the state’s prairie chicken population.