Wind turbines kill up to 39 million birds a year!

Big Wind hides evidence of turbine bird kills – and gets rewarded. Here’s how they do it.

In 1984 the California Energy Commission said “many institutional, engineering, environmental and economic issues must be resolved before the industry is secure and its growth can be assured.” Though it was not clearly stated, the primary environmental issue alluded to was the extreme hazard that wind turbines posed to raptors.

Since the early 1980s, the industry has known there is no way its propeller-style turbines could ever be safe for raptors. With exposed blade tips spinning in open space at speeds up to 200 mph, it was impossible. Wind developers also knew they would have a public relations nightmare if people ever learned how many eagles are actually being cut in half – or left with a smashed wing, to stumble around for days before dying.

To hide this awful truth, strict wind farm operating guidelines were established – including high security, gag orders in leases and other agreements, and the prevention of accurate, meaningful mortality studies.

For the industry this business plan has succeeded quite well in keeping a lid on the mortality problem. While the public has some understanding that birds are killed by wind turbines, it doesn’t have a clue about the real mortality numbers. And the industry gets rewarded with subsidies, and immunity from endangered species and other wildlife laws.

Early studies identified the extent of the problem

To fully grasp the wind turbine mortality problem, one needs to examine the 2004 report from the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA). The study lasted five years (1998-2003), and researchers did not have full access to all the Altamont turbines.

This careful, honest effort analyzed turbine characteristics in relation to mortality and estimated mortality from body counts compiled in careful searches. Researchers then adjusted mortality numbers by examining statistical data based on searcher efficiency and other factors, such as carcass removal by predators and scavengers. The report even suggested that the mortality estimates probably erred on the low side, due to missed carcasses and other human errors.

This study stands in marked contrast to studies being conducted today, especially the Wildlife Reporting Response System that is currently the only analysis happening or permitted at most wind farms. The WRRS is the power companies’ own fatality reporting system, and allows paid personnel to collect and count carcasses. It explains why mortality numbers are always on the low side and why many high-profile species are disappearing near turbine installations.

Incredibly, the APWRA report actually admitted: “We found one raptor carcass buried under rocks and another stuffed in a ground squirrel burrow. One operator neglected to inform us when a golden eagle was removed as part of the WRRS. Based on these experiences, it is possible that we missed other carcasses that were removed.” (Chap. 3, pg. 52) It’s easy to see how human “errors” keep bird mortality low.

The APWRA study also documented that raptor food sources, turbine sizes and turbine placement all directly affect raptor mortality. It was thus able to identify many of the most dangerous turbines or groups of turbines – those with a history of killing golden eagles, kestrels, burrowing owls and red-tailed hawks.

Studies worsen as turbines proliferate and increase in size

The study also discussed how higher raptor mortality occurred when smaller towers were “upgraded” with larger turbines and proportionally longer blades. These wind turbines offered what raptors perceived as intermediate to very big windows of opportunity to fly through what looked like open spaces between towers, but were actually within the space occupied by much longer, rapidly moving rotor blades.

The result was significantly more fatalities of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, burrowing owls, mallards, horned larks and western meadowlarks. Turbines with slower rotations per minute actually made it appear that there was more space and “greater windows of time.” This fooled birds, by giving them the illusion that they had open flight space between the rotating blades.

In fact, the illusion fools people, too. The newest turbines move their blades at 10-20 rotations per minute, which appears to be slow – but for their blade tips this translates into 100-200 mph!

All this was very important, because the industry was moving away from smaller turbines and installing much larger turbines, with much longer blades. However, the industry not only ignored the APWRA findings and rapidly installed thousands of these much larger turbines across America, despite their far greater dangers for birds and raptors. It also kept the APWRA out of the public’s awareness, and focused attention on new study results that reflected far less accurate (and honest) searches and surveys.

How the wind industry hides raptor mortality

The APWRA report also looked at the placement of carcasses in relation to turbine types. It documented that the distances carcasses were found from turbine towers increased significantly as turbine megawatt ratings and blade lengths increased. Based on sample of about 800 carcasses, the report revealed that birds were found an average of 94 feet (28.5) meters from 100-Kw turbines on towers 81 feet (24.6 meters) high.

Obviously, taller turbines with longer blades and faster blade tip speeds will catapult stricken birds much further. Figure 1 shows how a turbine 2.5 times larger will result in an average carcass distance of 372 feet (113.5 meters) from the tower. The wind industry is acutely aware of this.

wiegandfigure1

That is why it has restricted search areas to 165 feet (50 meters) around its bigger turbines. This ensures that far fewer bodies will be found – and turbine operators will not need to explain away as many carcasses.

Recent mortality studies like those conducted at the Wolfe Island wind project (2.3-MW turbines) and Criterion project in Maryland (2.5-MW turbines) should have used searches 655 feet (200 meters) from turbines, just to find the bulk (75%-85%) of the fatalities. Of course, they did not do so. Instead, they restricted their searches to 165 feet – ensuring that they missed most raptor carcasses, and could issue statements claiming that their turbines were having minimal or “acceptable” effects on bird populations.

wiegandfigure2

Other methods and biased formulas allow the industry to exclude or explain away carcasses. The latest Altamont Pass studies found far more bird carcasses, but Altamont operators still claim mortality declines by using new adjustment formulas and other exclusionary factors. (Figure 2) For example, industry analysts:

· Exclude certain carcasses. The 2005-2010 WRRS data show that 347 carcasses (primarily raptors) – plus 21 golden eagle carcasses – were excluded from mortality estimates, because industry personnel claimed they were found outside standard search procedures, said the “cause of death was unknown” (even when the birds’ heads had been sliced off), or removed carcasses ahead of a scheduled search.

· Exclude mortally wounded or crippled birds found during searches, even if they display turbine-related injuries. Even though many birds hit by turbine blades die within days, if they are still breathing when found, they are considered mobile – and thus not fatalities.

· Simply avoid searching near some of the most dangerous and lethal turbines. The industry justifies this exclusion by claiming that “the number of turbines monitored was reduced and spatially balanced for a randomized rolling panel design.” That this “reduction and balancing” excluded the most deadly portion of the Altamont facility was presented as coincidental or part of a proper scientific methodology.

The cold reality is that honest, scientific, accurate mortality studies in the Altamont Pass area would result in death tolls that would shock Americans. They would also raise serious questions about wind turbines throughout the United States, especially in major bird habitats like Oregon’s Shepherds Flat wind facility and the whooping cranes’ migratory corridor from Alberta, Canada, to Texas.

The techniques discussed here help ensure that “monitoring” studies match the facility operators’ desired conclusions, and mortality figures are kept at “acceptable” levels.

The bird mortality disaster must no longer be hidden

Not only has the wind industry never solved its environmental problem, it has been hiding at least 90% of this slaughter for decades. In fact, the universal problem of hiding bird (and bat) mortality goes from bad to intolerable beyond the Altamont Pass boundaries, because studies in other areas across North America are far less rigorous, or even nonexistent, and many new turbines are sited in prime bird and bat habitats.

The real death toll, as reported by Paul Driessen and others, is thousands of raptors a year – and up to 39 million birds and bats of all species annually in the United States alone, year after year! This is intolerable, and unsustainable. It is leading to the inevitable extinction of many species, at least in many habitats, and perhaps in the entire Lower 48 States.

Meanwhile, assorted “experts” continue to insist that the greatest threats to golden eagles are other factors like hikers getting too close to their nests, even when most abandoned nests in Southern California are nowhere near any hiking trails and wind turbines continue to slaughter eagles.

It is essential that people realize that no energy source comes anywhere close to killing as many raptors as wind energy does. No other energy companies are allowed to pick up bodies of rare and protected species from around their production sites on a day-to-day basis, year-in and year-out. No other energy producer has a several thousand mile mortality foot print (the highly endangered whooping cranes’ migratory corridor) like what wind energy has.

Once people understand all of this, they will rightfully demand that the wind industry obey the same environmental rules that all other industries must follow. This will require that wind turbines be sited only where the risk of bird deaths is minimal to zero; that turbines be replaced with new designs that birds recognize as obstacles and thus avoid; that fines be levied for every bird death, as is done with other industries; and that industrial wind facilities not be permitted where these requirements cannot be met.

America’s wildlife, and proper application of our environmental laws, require nothing less.

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About the Author: Jim Wiegand

Jim Wiegand is an independent wildlife expert with decades of field observations and analytical work. He is vice president of the U.S. region of Save the Eagles International, an organization devoted to researching, protecting and preserving avian species threatened by human encroachment and development.

  • Bernal

    Who says God has no sense of humor; a sick sense of humor in many ways. The whole environmental thing started with birds, right, Silent Spring and all. Now they defend that which could actually cause extinction of some species. Not the polar bear though, that most favored of species except maybe for that smelt thingy in the Sacramento.

    Big business used to oppose government adding to their costs through regulation. Now they don’t care but have joined hands with government to feed off the tax payer through crony-capitalism. The little guy used to be favored by the left but now suffers the most since he, and especially she, pay the most, as a percentage of income, for subsidies to the rich.

    The third world of all things made them most sad but they have forbade all could improve the lives of people who live there, development of resources, DDT, genetically modified crops. They seem to love the dictators too.

    Good article.

  • Venture Guy

    Jim thanks for exposing this. I read an Audubon study done of 5 turbines in NJ that killed an estimated 78 birds and bats a year including threaten and endangered raptors….an endangered Peregrine Falcon was killed only 25 breeding pair in the entire state..,..No News articles no hue and cry…just more calls to carpet the land in these industrial machines that produce energy 10%-40% of the time…and require 100% Carbon running backup. Another study commission in Delaware of the Lewes turbine could only find 2…as they didn’t want to walk in the tall grass or nearby marshy area….it was so laughably fraudulent it takes your breath away. The devastation of the Burrowing Owls and Golden Eagle in California…is heart sickening. In one report you see the hard number of deaths…then US fish and Wildlife….the apologist for the American Wind Energy Association Industrial Lobbying group….concludes they can’t understand the declining numbers…. Note Germany after spending hundred’s of billions of Euros on Wind and Solar energy has seen and increase in CO2 output of 1.6%, a 40% increase in electricity cost in 5 years. This is about money! It involves fooling people that want to do “Good” with the environment. I can’t believe more people aren’t shocked that the Holy Eagle protection acts is completely ignored for wind energy…it shows how duped people are. Keep getting the truth out!!!!

    • petepassword

      Yep, same old climate change denial gang; ‘industrial machines’, ‘carpet the land’ ‘Industrial lobbying group’, ‘duped people’ and an objection that it’s ‘about money’. When has anything in America not been about money?

      Note Germany recently supplied ALL its energy needs for some hours from renewables, mostly wind, and most of the time a substantial percentage of its needs comes wind, with much more planned. You have been misled. There is a lot of money behind this misleading, it’s an industry funded by fossil fuel, and what you have been fed was dreamed up by its professional dissemblers. There actually IS an approaching crisis of climate caused by our actions, and if you’re actually concerned about birds or other animals [which I doubt] I can assure you more are going to suffer as a result of climate change than from our attempts to reduce fossil fuels. And if you actually care about species extinction, mourn the thousands of species we consign to extinction every year, and have been doing for a long time now. This ISN’T ABOUT MONEY.

      • JKGusicas

        And note that Germany has now gone BACK to coal, since the turbines stood idle for nearly 2 weeks. It is about money. Climate change is real. It has always changed and always will. The fallacy that man has any more than a miniscule impact on GLOBAL climate is ALL ABOUT MONEY.

  • Jim Wiegand

    I recently reviewed a bogus mortality study handed to me by some
    very concerned citizens. Looking at the factors and flaws of the study, in
    my opinion there was a kill rate of 500-600 fatalities per MW per Year. The bogus study claimed only about 6 percent of this figure. I believe an investigative story is going to hit soon about this pitiful study and how most of the mortality was hidden. Watch for it.

  • Elizabeth Nicholson

    Please review this site:

    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/bladeless-windmills-a-new-source-of-wind-energy/16598?tag=nl.e660&s_cid=e660&ttag=e660

    which details bladeless wind capture. Conversion funding could be had through public/corporate donation, government subsidy, tax rebate, recycling existing structures into bladeless components. Could be done.

  • Bob

    Are you an idiot.

  • J.P. Katigbak

    I suspect wind turbines are a killer to birds. It seems to me that the ideological and philosophical doctrine of environmentalism is a bane for both humans and nature.

    Haven’t the activist ideologues really just give up the depressing politics? – J.P.K.

    • petepassword

      ‘I suspect’ [your suspicions are of no consequence or interest to anyone else] ‘wind turbines are a killer to [sic] birds’ you sound literate, perhaps you mean killer of birds? Of course they are, as is anything sticking up which isn’t a tree. Your house is a bird killer, the windows too, many birds die every year, many other animals as well. Many are as a result of our activities such as driving cars and trucks, erecting communications masts, power cables etc etc. Coal fired power plants kill millions of birds and poison the air we breath.

      It seems to me you haven’t a clue what ‘ideological and philosophical doctrine of environmentalism’ means. Your last sentence makes no sense either since it morphs from a question to an advice in a matter of a few words… ‘Haven’t the activist ideologues [sic] really just give up the depressing politics’.

  • regina

    Birds do not die that much birds are smarter then that

  • J.P. Katigbak

    I believe once the truth behind that part of environmentalism is revealed, ideological delusions will be challenged – and some people should understand the situation as of now.

    Also, be aware of the satanic doctrine of democracy: people should feel ashamed for not letting the situations unresolved anywhere in the world. Take action and do not ever give up, OK? – J.P.K.

    • petepassword

      This is humour right? Or are you a commentbot pretending to be human? I’m inclined to think the latter.

  • Grumps

    Oh my God … who wrote this? Was it professor backwards? “The study also discussed how higher raptor mortality occurred when smaller towers were “upgraded” with larger turbines and proportionally longer blades.” The study you referred to, if it’s one of the several bona fide scientific ones and not the amatuer one, concluded something different; in fact, they ended up converting to bigger turbines because they reduce mortality. “The report even suggested that the mortality estimates probably erred on the low side, due to missed carcasses and other human errors” and also presented the contrary case as any good researcher would – all research has a plus/minus which depends on many factors including experimental error, sample size, sample window and confidence interval used.
    “It is essential that people realize that no energy source comes anywhere close to killing as many raptors as wind energy does” – that’s provably untrue. Even in the specific case of bald eagles, mercury and arsenic from coal power may never be approached in raptor kill rates. After that, the kill rate of medium voltage transmission lines in raptor breeding territories has been measured at rates as high as 13 per mile per year. Egregious hyperbole does not help your case.

  • Grumps

    Great, I only read this article to fond out where the author got his numbers as so few of these articles point at any actual data or misrepresent estimates as actual data or merely inflate the numbers (I once traced a number that started at 47 and after a few retellings grew to 180). It appears he cites a prominent coal industry lobbiest and climate science denier to boot. Genius.

  • at78rpm

    I am a long-time bird lover who owns a cat. I keep my cat indoors because I love both cats and birds, but I realize my cat is a bird killer. If everyone kept their cats indoors, 12 BILLION birds a year in North America would be spared. In contrast, the 13 million caused by turbines seems a tolerable price to pay for electricity. 13 million — or billion — dead birds is not justifiable in any way. Rail about this, if your cause is ornithological.

    • petepassword

      13 million?? In the US it’s 330,000 tops, and that’s a lot of turbines.

    • WestHoustonGeo

      I never bought that 12 billion number in the first place.
      Second, my cat, on rare occasions, brings in small common birds and they are still around despite the large and rapdly growing cat population.
      Third, he never brings in Egrets, Falcons, Great Blue Herons or Whooping Cranes and those live here or migrate through every year. We got more Egrets than you can shake a stick at, just a few Cranes.
      I hear that Whooping Cranes have been dwindling lately. West-Northwest of here is the largest concentration of wind turbines in the country. Right along the Cranes’ flyway. Hmmmm.

  • Wetdog

    I have routinely walked my dogs through an area of a large scale wind farm for years.

    There is no fence or other obstruction to access at all, only small barricades around the base of the turbine masts—-to keep people from climbing on them I presume.

    Other than an occasional work team I’ve never seen anyone else much in the area.

    I’ve never noticed any birds laying around. According to this article, that is because there are workers who actively hide the carcasses from me. I suppose that is possible……………..they could hide them from me easy enough. However, hiding them from two gun dog trained Weimaraners is another matter entirely. That is completely and totally impossible. Even if someone came through, picked up the carcasses and buried them————-the dogs would find them faster and surer than if they had red beacon lights and sirens marking them. Humans would not find all of them(carcasses)—-dogs can’t be fooled, and they don’t miss. If there were dead birds, even hidden or buried—-the dogs would have found them.

    My other two dogs are tracking trained German Shepherd Dogs. GSDs are herding dogs with a genetic predisposition to hunt and attack predators. If coyotes or other predators had been in the area scavenging fresh bird kills by wind turbines—the Shepherds would have gone NUTS. They don’t have to see the predators—they have a much better sense for that, they can SMELL them. For up to a week, and even more when conditions are right. They can not only know that they were there, they can follow every step that they took. Predators can’t hide from German Shepherds.

    • WestHoustonGeo

      Wetdog,
      They can certainly hide the carcasses from your dogs by simply hauling them away in the dead of night to a landfill or incinerator. If access is as open as you say, that would be the only hope of not getting caught.
      The numbers at Altamont California have been around 100,000 and they freely admit to that. That is just one windfarm, albiet a really big one. (I drove through it once). Look up a US map of where the windfarms are and another of migratory flyways. You will note that they correspond well.

    • Karen Smith

      I agree 100 percent with you..i have nev3er seen a single bird a few bunnies and mice

  • Dr D

    I don’t know much about birds, however I assume that birds have fast reflexes and are intelligent. Surely a detailed study of bird behaviour could determine a signalling system that is effective at keeping most birds away from the moving blades. Perhaps the technical solution might involve sensors linked to some kind of repulsive stimuli (air, water, sound etc) ejected from the leading edge of the blades….

  • Stu MacKenzie

    Some birds are unlucky enough to collide with turbine blades, but at least here in the UK, the numbers are nothing like the amount the author is claiming. Birds also collide with buildings and road vehicles, and wind turbine collisions are no worse. Even so, before a wind farm development can go ahead in the UK, environmental impact assessments are made and bird surveys have to be conducted to ensure the location does not fall within important migration routes. Conservation groups have to give their approval before a wind farm can be built on a given site.
    I know of one bird reserve in Scotland which looks after a population of red kites, which happens to be almost next door to one of Europe’s largest wind farms. There was some concern that the turbines would provide a hazard to the birds, but as reserve staff have told me, in 4 years there have only been 3 known cases of dead birds found with injuries attributable to turbine blade collisions.
    Less than one death per year due to wind turbines is not a concern for the people running the reserve, who have a far bigger problem with birds being illegally shot or poisoned by unscrupulous land owners who are under the impression that raptors threaten their grouse and pheasant stocks. Ironically, those same landowners are quite often by the same sort of people that oppose wind farms.
    The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, by far the biggest single conservation organisation in Europe, openly support wind farms (so long as they are appropriately located), because they know better than anybody that the biggest single threat facing bird populations today is climate change from C02 emissions, thanks to our continued over-reliance on fossil fuels.

  • petepassword

    So Jim Wiegand is to wind turbines what Lard Lawson is to climate change; a dissembler of lies, half truths and deliberate misinformation. Good to know where the anti-wind shills are copying all their halfwit lies from. I’ve even read posts that claimed turbines exploded the brains of bats! A bit of garbage about air pressure, and you have these monkeys enthralled, yet they’re basically anti-science [when it suits them]. Bats, like small birds, are very fast, agile creatures with remarkable aerial dexterity, the idea they could be snuck up on by a lumbering turbine blade is pretty silly. Cranes, eagles and other large birds may be more vulnerable, but not if they’re paying attention and as long as there’s not a maze of blades right on a migration flight path, there’s unlikely to be much threat.
    Recently a small very uncommon bird appeared in the UK, twitchers descended and were photographin it when it swooped down and into a turbines blades! Thing is, this was one of those boat/caravan ones, that whir round like a fan, the bird was disorientated and lost, and an army of big-lensed if not brained twitchers were distracting it. Perhaps it was even putting on a show due to its instant fame. The antis crowed initially at this ‘proof’ of the killer potential of wind, but went quiet when it was pointed out the size of the turbine,

    • Tim Anderson

      From the New York Times…”Because bats use sound to navigate and can detect moving objects, like insects, exceptionally well, many are better able than birds to avoid striking the blades. However, they can’t detect the invisible swath of low pressure left behind turning blades. Bats then fly into this area, and their internal airways rapidly expand, causing internal bleeding. This phenomenon, known as barotrauma, accounts for more than half of all turbine-related fatalities in bats, according to a 2008 paper in the
      journal Current Biology.”

  • lauren

    you are r.e.t.a.r.d.e.d. do you have a lot of metal fillings or lie around all day with a lead cap on? Please do the world a favor (or at least a personal one to me if you don’t mind) and stop talking and writing and just use hand signals when you’re hungry and need to poop.

  • La

    What about the number of birds that are killed each year due to pollution from coal, and nuclear power. Or the number of birds that are killed by vehicles, hydro lines, or windows in buildings? Humans have been killing billions of birds every year for many many years. But now… When we finally start to do something good for our planet… By using a renewable energy resource people are worried about the birds. I don’t know, but I would choose wind power over nuclear or coal any day!! Why don’t we try to turn out the lights at night? That would reduce the amount of power we needed, save a bunch of birds lives… And allow us to see the stars again. Pick your battles people!

  • Carrick

    Somebody needs to adjust his tin-foil hat.

  • ParentsBeware

    People, people, people,,,, Were not talking starlings, were not talking robins or sparrows. Wake up!!!! Were talking rare birds!!! were talking big birds, big enough to carry your cats away. Were talking raptors, bald eagles, RARE birds. Were talking wind farms in migratory paths!!!

    Most of you will never get it. You act like it’s nothing since you think wind power is SOOOO good. A lot of effort goes into hiding the facts. Don’t count the maimed birds,,,they’re still living!! Don’t count the carcasses beyond 50 meters!! How many are carried away by scavengers? Why not send someone out to toss the carcasses beyond the 50 meter radius before the inspections?

    If it’s so good,,,,why all the subsidies?? If it’s so good, why don’t they get fined by the EPA?

    I hate people who bury their head in the sand in order to promote something they THINK is good when in fact it’s doing more damage than coal, oil, gas, or nuclear combined could ever do.

  • Matt

    now only if we could get the dumb hippies to walk into the turbines. Darwinism at work !

  • Tim Anderson

    The large bird deaths were mostly related to the fast moving blades of 1970′s technology…it only takes 1 giant turbine to equal the power from 15 of the smaller faster moving blades and the Altamont farm is replacing the older small faster moving towers with the new slower moving blades. From what I’ve read, the new wind blade towers in Indiana are only finding 2-4 dead birds a year around them. Why put a hysterical story out that sounds alarmist? If there were that many birds dying, you’d think there would be piles of birds under the blades and someone would have gotten a camera out and filmed it?? Now let’s put the numbers up for all the oil spills and waste pits the fossil fuel industry leaves around and see how many birds die there?

  • Helen L. Hronec

    Since you are for fracking for gas, more oil production and coal production, I can only find your results skeptical, at best.
    Big business is still in play here.

  • John Flynn

    Almost total BS, some people will spin anything for attention. The first hint is when the website name has “fact” in it. Then the “!” in the headline. All a feeble attempt at misinformation. There are some small bits of truth in the article.. that are spun in to absolutely ridiculous claims. Anyone with half a brain can see this story is BS.

    • Dcoronata

      Not just total BS, total lack of science.