Fall 2012

Dialogue | What impact does wind power have on birds?

Birds can be killed when they fly into the blades or towers of wind turbines, and their habitats can be fragmented or otherwise affected by turbine sites and service roads. Most fatalities occur at older turbines that have fast-moving blades and lattice tower structures; newer turbines typically feature slower-moving blades and “monopole” towers that reduce perching and nesting. Newer turbines are also much larger, allowing more energy to be generated by fewer units.

Studies show an average of 145,000 birds are currently killed by the U.S. wind industry each year. But even if wind generated all our electricity (up from about 3 percent today), turbine-related deaths would constitute only a small fraction of the annual bird fatalities attributable to human activity. For example, a 2005 study by the U.S. Forest Service found that 550 million birds die each year from colliding with buildings.

And wind power can help reduce the most significant threat birds face: global warming, which damages animals’ habitats and food supplies. A 2004 study estimated that if heat-trapping emissions were to continue unabated, approximately one million species (including birds) could become extinct by 2050. For these reasons, UCS helped found the American Wind Wildlife Institute, which works with scientists, conservationists, and the wind industry to ensure the clean energy we need poses minimal risks to local wildlife. To learn more, visit www.awwi.org.


Also in this issue of Earthwise:

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How I Got Cooler Smarter