Wind Turbines Harm Birds – These Design and Placement Rules Could Minimize the Impact

Birds Flying by Wind Turbines

Wind energy is increasingly seen as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, as it contributes to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that by 2050, wind turbines will contribute more than 20% of the global electricity supply. However, the rapid expansion of wind farms has raised concerns about the impact of wind turbines on wildlife.

Research in that area has been limited and has yielded conflicting results. A new study, published in Energy Science, provides comprehensive data on how turbines affect bird populations.

While the study did find a negative effect on some breeding birds, it also suggests ways to mitigate that effect through wind turbine design and placement, explains Madhu Khanna, professor of agricultural and consumer economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. Khanna is co-author of the study.

“We found that there was a negative impact of three birds lost for every turbine within 400 meters (1,300 feet) of a bird habitat. The impact faded away as distance increased,” Khanna says.

Overall, the researchers estimate that about 150,000 birds are affected by wind turbines in the U.S. every year. This includes both direct and indirect effects; that is, bird collisions with turbines as well as changes in bird habitat due to wind disturbances and other factors. The effects vary for different types of birds. When looking specifically at grassland birds, the researchers found fewer negative impacts than for other types of breeding birds.

The researchers analyzed data on wind turbines, breeding birds, land use, and weather across the United States over a six-year period. The study included 1,670 wind turbines and 86 bird observation routes across 36 states from 2008 to 2014.

“We compared bird routes that were close to turbines with those that were further away, making it possible to more easily and precisely identify the impact of the turbine, while controlling for other unobservable factors,” explains Ruiqing Miao, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Auburn University and lead author on the study.  

The negative impacts on birds identified in this study are lower than estimates from some other studies. However, those studies were done on a smaller scale. This research uses a large dataset over a longer time frame, yielding more systematic and accurate information.

The researchers also found that the size of the wind turbine and the length of the blades make a difference: taller turbines and shorter blades reduce the impact on birds. Other studies have found that turbine height was negatively correlated with bird count, but the present study separated height from blade length and found the length to be the more important factor.

The study’s findings can be used to inform decisions about wind turbine placement and design. Because the impact on birds diminishes as the distance increases, the researchers suggest that wind turbines be placed outside a 1,600-meter (5,300-foot) buffer zone of high-density bird habitats. They also recommend that turbines be taller but with shorter blade length.

Policy decisions regarding wind energy must consider the tradeoff between sustainable energy and bird populations, Khanna points out. “No single technology is such that it is only beneficial and has no negative consequences. You can minimize the effect by making the recommended adjustments,” she says.

Reference: “Effect of wind turbines on bird abundance: A national scale analysis based on fixed effects models” by Ruiqing Miao, Prasenjit N. Ghosh, Madhu Khanna, Weiwei Wang and Jian Rong, September 2019, Energy Science.
DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2019.04.040

Authors include Ruiqing Miao, Prasenjit N. Ghosh, and Jian Rong, Auburn University; Madhu Khanna, University of Illinois; and Weiwei Wang, Dell Financial Services, Austin, Texas.

8 Comments on "Wind Turbines Harm Birds – These Design and Placement Rules Could Minimize the Impact"

  1. Birds also fly into houses, but cars collect millions per day. Stop this nonsence g you are uninformed and are part of the fossil fuel lobby media. Read a damn paper, or an EIA, which inevitably prove turbines have no material affect

  2. This is article is not based on true science.

    Detailed true science studies over 6 years with radars sensitive enough to track moths by day and night proved that wind turbines had negligible impact on avian populations.

    Out or estimated 235,000 passing birds during the observation period it was predicted that such a low level of probability
    of collision at any one turbine, the radar monitoring system would fail to detect a single collision of a water bird during more than 2,400 hours of monitoring and this proved to be the case. This level of monitoring resulted in 11 bird detections well away
    from the sweep area of the turbine blades, 2 passing bats, two passing objects that were either small birds or bats, a moth and one collision of a small bird.

    While wind turbines are absolutely not a threat to birds lives, generating clean electricity averts toxic fossil fuel air pollution that saves hundreds of thousands of birds from damaging their lungs and cancers. Enough with spreading misinformation attempting to stop its inevitable demise.

    • Post of my work involves serving under turbines looking for collisions. To say turbines are not a that to birds (and bats) is false. I have found numerous collisions with certain species more susceptible then others. Now on the whole I think wind turbines are great and are likely to cause less mortalities of wildlife than other methods of energy proton

  3. Bird Studies are done daily for two+ years on the impact of Wind Turbines being placed anywhere in the world. Also Bat studies. I don’t know why these people writing these stories cannot find these studies when a regular person can find them online.

  4. I’ve conducted searches on a local wind farm. In the year and a half of work I did I documented numerous birds and bats. Saying the effect is negligible is only a legitimate argument as long as the number of turbines is low and deaths remains “low” by the people pushing the wind agenda. Once the turbines are in a higher number and concentration bird deaths will rise and then wind energy will be the big bad guy.

  5. Calaverasgrande | October 21, 2019 at 11:01 am | Reply

    First, why not longitudinal instead of axial turbines?
    Also, cannot an effort be made to incorporate something like the ‘deer whistle’ used on cars. In order to frighten birds away or alert them of the presence of the turbine.
    I suppose there is no universal pitch for all birds. But I’d think something akin to a hawk or eagle’s cry would be effective.

  6. Fact is, more birds by far are killed by cars as a simple walk along any highway can prove. furthermore more birds by far are killed by collisions with buildings (windows primarily) including your home. I live very close to a wind farm and there is no doubt that my own modest home has killed more birds than any turbine out there (doves, warblers, bluebirds, sparrows, etc…..I have taken steps to rectify this).Lastly the extraction and burning of fossil fuels through pollution, loss of habitat, and climate change is a far greater threat to birds than turbines. Time to focus in the real problems…

  7. A study by Benjamin Sovacool found 17 times more birds are killed by fossil fuels, and two times more by nuclear reactors & their fuel cycle, mining, etc–PER KILOWATT-HOUR. That doesn’t even include the effects of climate catastrophe. Fossil & fissile fuels kill insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish, whales, other mammals including humans, trees, flowering plants, & others who are only benefited by wind turbines. Oil drilling & coal mining extracts hundreds of thousands of times more than mining for renewables, and while RE mining is just up front for construction, then virtually everything is recyclable for another generation of generating, indefinitely… fuel mining, drilling & processing go on endlessly as long as the fuels are used, & the mined & drilled stuff after is called pollution. Counting everything, fuels kill more than 10 million people and utterly uncountable numbers of other beings–every year. Through climate catastrophe, fossil fuels are wiping out whole species now & will end most life on Earth if not stopped immediately. We have at most 9 years left or we risk exponentially increasing effects that will end cohesive civilization within a century, along with all hope of implementing solutions.

    The best things you can do for all life are to organize politically to:
    replace fossil fuels with efficiency, wiser lives, & clean safe fast reliable renewable energy;
    replace ICE vehicles & flying with not traveling, & public transit including an international high speed rail network;
    transform chemical industrial agriculture to small-scale low-meat organic permaculture;
    transform industry to ecological forms;
    radically equalize economically & politically;
    acknowledge the psychological cause of all our problems

    The Real Threat to Eagles.
    150 eagle deaths, across 154 wind facilities, over a decade, is less than 1 eagle, per wind farm, per decade.

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