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Wildlife Wipeout

Wind Turbines Kill Winged Creatures

J. Marijs/

Wind turbines make cleaner energy, but are dangerous to birds and bats. According to a study in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, approximately 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed annually by wind turbines, which are providing increased wind power capacity nationwide. At one solar power plant in California, an estimated 3,500 birds died in just the plant’s first year of operation.

What would help most is offshore turbines and knowledge about migration routes. The safest place for wind turbines is in the ocean, because songbirds and bats don’t migrate over such waters. On land, many songbirds fly at night and can’t see the wind turbines until it’s too late. Once they’ve discovered the unsafe area, they avoid it. Because migration routes are based on availability of food, water and resting areas, birds are forced to fly around the turbines, adding miles to their trip and the burning of more calories.

Estimates of just how many bats are dying each year range from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Radar installations help to keep bats away from the deadly blades. Other remedies include slowing the blades at night to reduce collisions, which has proved to reduce overall wildlife deaths by 73 percent.

In 2016 the American Wind Energy Association announced voluntary guidelines to halt turbines during low wind speeds, when bats are most active, to reduce bat fatalities by 30 percent. With two more industry changes, bat fatalities could drop 90 percent: feathering, or turning the blades parallel to the wind so the turbines don’t rotate; and higher cut-in speeds so they don’t rotate in light winds.

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This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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