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Wind Turbines Kill a Few Birds 991

Guppy06 writes "The Houston Chronicle has an article about how a 7000-turbine windfarm in Altamont Pass, California (the world's largest collection) has killed an estimated 22,000 birds during the past 20 years or so of operation, 'including hundreds of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and other raptors(.)' There are efforts to keep the operators from renewing their permit until they take measures to protect bird populations. To put things in perspective the article goes on to point out that the Exxon Valdez spill is estimated to have killed around 250,000, while the whole story can just about be summed up by one quote by a biologist: 'When you turn on your lights you kill something, no matter what the source of electricity.'" Killing 3-4 birds per day doesn't seem too bad. It's a shame that larger, rarer birds are getting killed, but... How many birds would die from the acid rain that a coal power plant would cause?
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Wind Turbines Kill a Few Birds

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  • Solution ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zeux ( 129034 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:31PM (#7839087)
    Why not put big metal grid around each turbine ?

    My fan here has one so I can't put my fingers in. Maybe we could use grid with larger holes so the flow of wind wouldn't be disturbed too much and so it would prevent bigger birds of going through.

    I think it would cause some extra noise (wind going through the grid), cost some extra money and maybe lower the wind speed a little (and by the way lower efficiency) but that would definitely save the birds.

    But maybe 22000 birds over 20 years (that's a little more than 3 birds a day) are not worth the expense...

    Any solution with magnetic fields? I know that some birds use magnetic fields during their flight to find their destination... It could also help keeping birds out of the highway (60 millions/year in car collision ??? That's a LOT).
  • Not all bad (Score:1, Interesting)

    by FrostedWheat ( 172733 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:32PM (#7839118)
    These birds are going back into the ecosystem as food for other animals so it's not quite as bad as burning old animals (fossel fuels).
  • by TerryAtWork ( 598364 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:34PM (#7839143)
    or putting sparklies on them so they can be seen even though they're whirling at high speed.

    On the other hand, that might ATTRACT the birds....

  • Kill 22,000 birds (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Freston Youseff ( 628628 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:35PM (#7839166) Homepage Journal
    with 7,000 stones. In all seriousness, this number is probably tiny compared to the amount of birds that get shredded in personal, commercial and miliatary aircraft over the last 20 years. It's sort reporting the fact that blueberries are blue.
  • Re:Not all bad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TokyoBoy ( 217214 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:38PM (#7839215) Homepage's not quite as bad as burning old animals (fossel fuels).

    Of course I'm sure you ment to say "'s not quite as bad as burning old plants (fossel fuels)" as everyone knows that fossel fuels are the remains of plants (tropical), not animals. 8^)
  • by northwind ( 308027 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:39PM (#7839229) Homepage
    During the latest END (Exotic Newcastle Disease) outbreak here in Southern California an estimated 5million birds were killed. Domesticated, pets and wildlife.
    So these numbers are very small even as they seem high to certain people. And I don't mean anything negative with that.
  • Re:Solar? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frymaster ( 171343 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:39PM (#7839236) Homepage Journal
    and just turning on the lights can kill birds regardless of the power source...

    the mccormick place exposition centre in chicago had ornamental lighting that casued navigational confusion for birds (ie. it looked like the moon) resulting in a total of 1,500 bird deaths between 1982 and 1996.

    i am not making this up. there's a good article on how light kills birds here [].

  • by GoneGaryT ( 637267 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:42PM (#7839290) Journal
    ...from a kite [] (no, not a bird).

    It's a bit Pythonesque, really. "The residents pass along here, through the rotating knives..."

  • damn! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by exhilaration ( 587191 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:52PM (#7839451)
    And a study at a single Florida coal-fired power plant with four smokestacks recorded an estimated 3,000 deaths in a single evening during a fall migration - "Bird Casualties at a Central Florida Power Plant," Maehr, D. S., et al., Florida Field Naturalist, 11:45-49, 1983. Florida Ornithological Society.

    From the link above... []

  • by chunkwhite86 ( 593696 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:54PM (#7839478)
    Conservation still makes the most sense to me. We should get serious about reducing our energy needs with government incentives for energy efficiency.

    Agreed. But it has to be consistant. Why does a 50 mile-per-gallon Honda hybrid car qualify for a tax deduction, but a 50 mile-per-gallon Volkswagen turbo-diesel car does not? In europe, VW/Audi are producing cars which get 100 miles per gallon (the lupo 1.2 TDI) which also meet the uber-strict euro-4 emissions standards.

    I don't know about you, but when a Ford Explorer rolls over and slams into me, I'd much rather be in a big-ass Audi A6 TDI getting 50 miles per gallon than a tiny tin-can honda hybrid which gets the same fuel economy.

    There is nothing wrong with using hydrocarbon based energy, so long as it is super efficient and clean. That represents an extremely small portion of the current hydrocarbon consuming cars / power plants.
  • Glasswindows kill... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bubblehead ( 35003 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:57PM (#7839525) Homepage Journal
    ... up to 900 million [] of birds a year - likely many more than the number stated in the article! Yes, it's unfortunate that birds get killed - but put it into perspective! I wonder how many birds get killed due to coal mining (if it happens on the ground, huge natural areas are destroyed) and coal burning (pollution). To be fair, the article acknowledges these facts (yup, I read it).

    The article also states that a number of lessons about bird-killing were learned and will be applied to new wind farms that's great! But the damage done so far seems so neglectible, that it would be ridiculous to shut down the whole windfarm!

  • by waferhead ( 557795 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:10PM (#7839694)
    Modern theories discard "dino" or even plant sources for the oil/gas we drill for.

    It's apparently from the formation of the earth.

    Apparently it's not really even controversial anymore among geologists.
    (Google for it)
  • Re:Not all bad (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TokyoBoy ( 217214 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:12PM (#7839715) Homepage
    When you think of it, the windmills are producing energy, which kills birds, which other animals eat, which turn into fossil fuels, which can be turned into other power sources. They should be subsidizing them!

    or rather:

    "When you think of it, the windmills are producing energy, which kills birds, which other animals eat, which turn into fertilizer, which then helps plants grow which then turn into fossil fuels, which can be turned into other power sources. They should be subsidizing them!"

    as everyone knows that fossel fuels are the remains of plants (tropical), not animals []. 8^)
  • by adamfranco ( 600246 ) <adam@adamfranco . c om> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:17PM (#7839772) Homepage
    Another bit from that article []:

    In the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (which has some 7,000 wind
    turbines), a two-year study found 182 dead birds, of which 119 were
    raptors. The study attributed 55 percent of raptor deaths to collisions
    with turbines, eight percent to electrocutions from power lines, 11
    percent to collisions with wires, and 26 percent to unknown causes [4].

    The inital posted article says:

    an estimated 22,000 birds have died... ...after flying into the spinning blades of the wind turbines.

    Where was the posted article getting its data? 52 deaths per year by collision is A LOT less than the 1100 per year mentioned in the article. Kinda shifts things a bit...

  • Re:Nice quote (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ooblek ( 544753 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:20PM (#7839800)
    They don't bring up the magnitude of the problem because they probably don't care. There is one guy in there saying that the turbines are the quivalent to an Exxon Valdez accident every year. Funny thing is that ~1000 birds per year did not seem as large an impact as the Valdez in terms of the ocean life, environment, AND birds affected.

    Its pretty obvious that it is a bunch of rich people that want their home values to go up. So they make it too expensive to operate the wind farm, wind farm goes away. No wind farm = nice view = higher home value. The home prices in that area are insane anyway. Taking the "high road" for saving animals is the way to do it, because no one will publicly say anything against saving animals, at least in California. This is the state, and general area in the state, where a legal offense fund of $100k was made by donations just to throw away a guy's life. He apparently tossed a dog into traffic in an incident of road rage. They tossed him in the slammer for 5 years for killing a dog.

    See, watch how many people think I'm psycho for not giving a shit about the dumb animal. If you were a public figure, you'd throw your career away telling the animal-rights people to go crawl under a rock. That wind farm is doomed.

  • HOUSTON speaks? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrChuck ( 14227 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:25PM (#7839854)
    Houston, the center of oil and oil energy, has a paper decrying the dangers of WIND enery? To the environment?

    I laugh.

    But first, more useful stats are gleaned not from "in 20 years of operations" but in "birds per year." Is it static or have lots of work in the last few years to reduce bird death paid off? Using a broad statistic like that reeks of lazy journalism or trying to push aside that bird deaths/year have plunged since Altamont first opened.

    I'm not far from the wind farm right now (just over a rise I can see), and I know that lots of birds got whacked with the original windmills.

    I also know that new windmills were put in, along with other measures, to DEAL with this problem.

    I've heard (on radio, in paper) that the number of birds/year killed is down VASTLY.

    Ok, that out of the way: Damage to wild life isincluding hundreds of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and other raptors - but I imagine that the VAST MAJORITY of bird deaths are to sparrows and other common birds. How much damage is done compared to if they were pumping oil from those fields? Or if it has a coal power plant there?

    I find it a little disigenuous that it comes from Houston; from the home of the Resident of the US; on the same day the radio covers stories of Wyoming's [home of Big Dick Cheney] massive budget SURPLUS.

    Did you know that a fair amount of energy is required to MAKE solar panels? Ban them!

    The best way to save animals and such is to:
    Reduce energy use (do you NEED an electric razor when a manual one works fine? Toothbrush? Does that tivo REALLY need to be on 24/7 with disks spinning?
    Have you noticed that plasma screens just SUCK power?

    It's not like the environmentalists don't have other things they could do. Every MW not needed is a win for the environment.

    Generate power locally. And make is EASY for Joe Sixpack to join in.

    If every new electrical meter put it were REQUIRED to run both directions, then it would be a simple matter to run 2, 4 solar panels and just push it back on the grid.
    If every new house was REQUIRED to have at least the infrastructure for roof panels - a PVC from roof to power area to run cables, perhaps footings for mounting panels - cost < $100 when putting up a roof and hundreds or thousands when putting onto an existing roof.

    If they ALSO measured accoring to TIME of use (peak/non-peak), we might have a slight cash motivation to do power consumptive things during the off peak. Right now the only motivation is the somewhat lame: "because it's good". Most people will respond better, I'm sorry to say, to "because it's good and you'll save 20%/month"

    If every new WATER meter in Calif were required to measure usage based on TIME, then people might be a bit motivated to run dishs and laundry at night.

    So, now that computers are about as fast as they need for the software we're currently running, where are the "new P4/1.2GHz that uses 50% the power of the same machine using der biggen chip?"

    I know my LCD's suck a lot less power than CRTs, that my ARM computer uses a gazillionth the power of the dual 1GHz 1U. AT this point, with intel pushing 4GHz, I'd be more attracted to a machine advertised as saving me 20%/month on my power bills. (and yes, I mostly use a 266MHz laptop or a 400MHz apple laptop).

    Encourage less power use and you support the country and reduce our need to support nations breeding terrorists.

  • The Birds Learn (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HardCase ( 14757 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:26PM (#7839860)
    When I moved into my new house about six years ago, we suffered from fairly frequent blackouts, something like one a week, which seemed pretty excessive to me. So I called the power company to find out what was going on. The engineer I talked to said that the problem was that flocks of birds were running into the new power lines in the area and arcing across the terminals of the transformers. He said that this happened all the time when new above ground structures like this were constructed, but within a year, the birds would have adjusted to the structures and the problem would go away. He also said that the problems would probably shift further south of where I lived, where more housing development was going on.

    Sure enough, the next summer, no bird-caused blackouts, but my friend who bought a new house about ten miles south of me was having the very same problems that I'd had!

    Anyway, I think that it would be interesting to observe the trend, over time, of the rate of bird deaths. It wouldn't surprise me to see that they fall off rapidly after the first year as the birds become accustomed to the presence of the wind turbines. And, as many have pointed out, 22,000 bird deaths by 7,000 turbines over 20 years is quite a low rate. Everything comes with a cost.


  • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:27PM (#7839877)
    Lights left on at night in high rise buildings. Kills birds in the hundreds of thousands every year.

    In addition, light pollution from coastal cities screws up nesting and migration patterns for all manner of birds and sea life.

    And, has anyone done a study how many birds are killed by pollution from coal plants? It's not so easy, since they don't fall in a nice pile next to the plant.
  • Cats? Hunters? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by raider_red ( 156642 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:33PM (#7839944) Journal
    Okay, how many birds are killed each year by common felines? I'd be willing to bet that the average outside cat bags at least one a year.

    Also, my family shoots an average of about 100 ducks, dove, and turkeys per year between all of us. I'm not at all in favor of banning hunting either, (in fact, I participate with enthusiasm) but the 20000 over 20 years is a drop in the bucket compared to the average annual hunting take, even in a fairly liberal state like California.
  • Bird kills (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:52PM (#7840133)
    I used to do research on this; in fact, I was with the first radar-based surveys to try to determine potential kills from these towers. A few things need to be mentioned.

    The first is that the location of many of these windpower sites coincides quite nicely with the channels through which migratory birds travel. As a result, there is a strong correlation between windpower sites and migratory routes for birds. This is a problem.

    The second is that many of these birds move at night; we counted nights where there were hundreds of birds visible on radar. How they managed to fly this way, I'll never know- flying in sub-zero temperatures, in the dark. Nobody was ever able to answer why their eyes didn't freeze, traveling like they did. Putting complex cages around the turbines to birds don't impact the blades won't matter a damn if they're traveling 30-40 mph with the wind, and collide with the cage instead of the blades. They're not going to see them at night, when some of the heaviest air traffic occurs.

    The third is that there is a treaty (Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918) that says that it's illegal to kill birds without permits. This is to keep, say, Canada from killing a bunch of birds that Americans say are "theirs." Wildlife not understanding international borders and all that. So, if we start killing lots of migratory birds with windpower sites, we can expect there to be international ramifications.

    Last, a number of electric companies don't like having to buy the surplus power these wind sites generate, and will do everything they can to shut them down (see number three, above).

  • Re:Solution ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jafiwam ( 310805 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:23PM (#7840411) Homepage Journal
    Fuzzy, cute, and deadly. The domestic cat (species, some are feral) kill an estimated 300 million animals per year too.

    Here's a link: []

    The same treehuggers complaining about the turbines probably let little Mr. Fluffy go out side unsupervised. What do you think Fluffy DOES out there? (besides crap in the sandbox of the kid next door)

    Fluffy hunts!
  • Re:Solution ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by M-G ( 44998 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:59PM (#7840733)
    While the domestic cat does indeed take out many birds, I've not seen too many that can take down an eagle or hawk, which are what the article mentions. I suspect that the cat would more likely be the dinner for them.
  • by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrate@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @08:14PM (#7840855)
    I work at a Nuclear Power plant, and the process is very money-efficient.
    For starters, the energy release by a fission event, per atom involved, is at least 2 million times greater than a chemical reaction- ie, burning.

    Now, in the core at my plant, we have 193 fuel assemblies, each of which contains a little more than half a ton of uranium. Skipping over some details, we can basically use this hundred tons of fuel to generate 1.2 GW for 4.5 years.

    The coal powerplant down the road 10 miles burns something on the order of 500 tons of coal a day to make half the electricity we do.

    Each of our fuel assemblies costs us $750,000. For coal to be as cheap as nuclear, coal would have to go for $0.46 per ton. It actually costs more in the neighborhood of $28.00 per ton.

    So even with the added burdens of security and (ridiculous) regulation, nuclear power is still cheaper. My plant is actually a base load plant- we run at 100% capacity 24/7, and other plants (coal, oil, gas, etc) vary their load with demand- because we underbid all of them in the local deregulated market.

    If it wasn't for the ornerous regulation, idiot groups like greenpeace, and widespread misunderstanding about nuclear power, you'd see Nuke plants being built on quite a regular basis.
    THey'd never be the entire source of electricity for the country, because nuclear plants don't change load gracefully over the course of the day. You start them, fully load them, and run them till they need to be refueled, or shit needs service sooner than you expect, because it's not in it's design parameters.
  • by ikeleib ( 125180 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @09:32PM (#7841472) Homepage
    That's very interesting. The wind farm doesn't need any fuel.
  • Re:Solution ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by whereiswaldo ( 459052 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:37PM (#7842313) Journal
    there are 7000 turbines, so that makes little over 3 birds killed per turbine in 20 years, or 0.157... birds/year/turbine!...

    As a quick comparison, in the past year, three birds have died after running into the living-room window in my house. Those turbines are downright safe!

    Yes, but this is just running statistics and not thinking of the details. Probably, most of those birds are hitting the same exterior turbines -- they aren't hitting each turbine equally.

    If you put a large silhouette of a giant bird around the permiter of the turbine farm, I'd bet there would be a noticeable reduction in the number of birds killed.

    Sadly, the (obviously intentional) human suicide rate globally is many, many times higher. Poor, poor people, that they think nobody loves them. We should spend more resources helping our brothers and sisters get through life.

The other line moves faster.