Ornithologists Want Windmill Research

Researchers call for access to more data from energy companies to find strategies that will limit bird and bat deaths from wind turbines.

Jun 21, 2012
Edyta Zielinska

Black-headed gull at the Eider River, GermanyWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, DIRK INGO FRANKE

Although wind turbines aren’t the biggest killer of flying animals, they appear threaten species that are high conservation priorities, such as the US golden eagle and bats.  Researchers hope that by working with renewable-energy companies to collect data and developing methods to mitigate the risk to these animals, they can reduce the overall damage caused by the enormous blades that can spin at nearly 170 miles per hour.

In Spain, ornithologists have employed the unusual method of watching the skies for migratory raptors headed in the direction of 13 wind farms in the southern part of the country, and calling engineers in company control towers, who then stop the turbines until the birds have passed. The method appears to have reduced mortality by 50 percent, with only a 0.07 loss in energy production, reported Nature.

Unfortunately, the technique won’t work everywhere. In locations such as the Altamont Pass in California, wind farms are in the way of migratory as well as permanent bird populations. There,  exchanging smaller turbines with larger ones and slightly shifting their placement has reduced golden eagle fatalities by 50 percent and raptor mortality by 75 percent.

Although companies collect data on animal fatality, few publish that data for fear of lawsuits or political attacks. However, the American Wind Wildlife Institute, made up of both conservation and industry organizations, is attempting to change that by creating a data repository that researchers would have access to, while protecting companies. The project is expected to be completed this summer.