Do wind turbines kill birds?

If you’re worried about birds, you should be worried about climate change, not wind turbines. That’s one of the reasons the RSPB built a turbine at their HQ.

Wind turbines do kill birds. And bats. But before you swallow the Daily Mail’s claim that wind turbines kill 22 million birds a year, or Donald Trump’s line that wind power is killing ALL OF THE EAGLES, it’s worth doing some fact-checking.

The UK's first wind farm was built 25 years ago in Delabole, Cornwall. Founder Peter Edwards tells a wonderful story of Starlings flying by. "The sky went black with them, and they were heading directly for turbine, and I thought 'golly this is going to be carnage'."

But, the Starlings seemed to be weaving in and out of the turbines. When Peter went up to take a look, he found "there was not one dead bird underneath that turbine." 

There are electricity pylons near the Delabole wind farm. "What is interesting," says Peter, is "you find dead birds under the pylon wires continually”.

According to the Centre for Sustainable Energy, wind turbines are responsible for less than 0.01% of avian mortality caused by humans. It might be hard to hear, but British cats kill around 55 million birds a year. And that’s before we get into the other things we humans make - windows, roads, plyons, chicken nuggets, climate change...

For another comparison, a study in 2013 looked at birds in the USA and worked out that whereas wind farms killed 20,000 birds there in 2009, fossil fuelled power plants killed more than 14 million, and that, per unit of electricity generated, fossil fuels were 17 times more dangerous to birds than wind turbines (check out this ace Carbon Brief overview for deets).

According to the RSPB, wind turbines can harm birds in three possible ways – disturbance, habitat loss (both direct and/or indirect) and collision. We should be aware of all of these issues and make sure turbines aren’t built on big migration routes or on breeding and roosting sites.

The main point the RSPB stress, however, is that climate change is the biggest threat to birds, and wind is part of the the solution. The trick - which the Bat Conservation Trust would also argue - is to do wind well. For their own turbine, the RSPB did three years of breeding and wintering bird surveys as well as surveying bat populations to make sure they wouldn’t harm the wildlife in their nature reserve or local area. Scientists are continuing to research what causes bird and bat deaths and how we can best mitigate it.

 

Banner image: IIP Photo Archive, creative commons.