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Wind-power siting considerations that spare birds

Greater Sage-Grouse is one o many species affected by wind power.
Greater Sage-Grouse at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, 2010, by mayhaga.

Two recent reviews summarize what the latest science reveals about the effects of wind-power facilities on birds.

The first, prepared by veteran wind researchers Douglas H. Johnson, Scott R. Loss, Shawn Smallwood, and Wallace 
P. Erickson, tackles the vexing task of estimating the number of birds killed at turbines every year.

Three different recent studies produced three different estimates, the researchers write in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions, yet each review estimated the number of fatalities “within the same magnitude” — roughly a quarter- to a half-million birds per year at 2012 build-out levels.

The second, a comprehensive roundup of the reported impacts of onshore wind and solar facilities, stresses the importance of the effects of placement across all energy infrastructure types.

Seven keys for wind and solar power

Writing in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, scientists Jennifer A. Smith and James F. Dwyer identify seven “key generalities” that can reduce impacts on birds and should be considered during siting decisions:

1. Avoiding regularly used flight paths, migration corridors, and aggregation areas. The risk of collision increases, studies show, when structures are placed perpendicular to flight paths or in areas of high use.

2. Avoiding areas inhabited by sensitive species or those of conservation concern, such as Greater Sage-Grouse, Western Burrowing Owl, and Ridgway’s Rail.

3. Avoiding topographical features that promote foraging, and avoiding cliffs and steep slopes that migrating birds, and especially species that exploit thermals, use to gain lift.

4. Avoiding areas of high biodiversity, endemism, and ecological sensitivity. The deserts of the southwestern U.S., eyed for solar development, are examples of areas of high endemism.

5. Developing conservation buffers for vulnerable species based on thresholds determined through empirical research.

6. Carefully selecting or modifying infrastructure to minimize the risk of collision or indirect effects (for example, by deploying flashing red lights and ground devices, or by employing efficient technology that uses less space).

7. Curtailing turbine operation when the light is low, conditions are foggy, or the weather is inclement.

Read the papers

Jennifer A. Smith and James F. Dwyer (2016) Avian Interactions with Renewable Energy Infrastructure: An Update. The Condor: Ornithological Applications, Vol. 118, No. 2 (May 2016), pp. 411-423 (PDF).

Douglas H. Johnson, Scott R. Loss, K. Shawn Smallwood, and Wallace P. Erickson (2016) Avian Fatalities at Wind Energy Facilities in North America: A Comparison of Recent Approaches. Human–Wildlife Interactions, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring 2016): pp. 7–18 (PDF).

ABC renews call for regulations to reduce the number of birds killed at wind farms.

Julie Craves explains why so many birds fly into wind-turbine blades.

New study estimates 573,000 birds died at wind farms in 2012.

See photos of Greater Sage-Grouse.

A version of this article appeared in the August 2016 issue of BirdWatching.


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