Wind Turbines Not That Bad For Birds?

I am so up in the air and ill informed when it comes to wind energy and birds. We need an alternative, renewable fuel source, but is the cost to birds too high? I'd love to go to the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative conference at the end of this month to try and get some answers, but I think I'll be in Cape May.

Well, according to one British study, wind turbines do not drive birds from farm land. According to Reuters:

Wind turbines do not drive birds from surrounding areas, British researchers said on Wednesday, in findings which could make it easier to build more wind farms.

Conservation groups have raised fears that large birds could get caught in the turbines and that the structures could disturb other species.

"This is the first evidence suggesting that the present and future location of large numbers of wind turbines on European farmland is unlikely to have detrimental effects on farmland birds," Mark Whittingham, whose team from Newcastle University carried out the research, said in a statement.

But scientists found only one of the 23 species studied, the pheasant, was affected during their survey of two wind farms in eastern England.

The survey studied the impact of two wind farms on about 3,000 birds in the area, including five species of conservation concern -- the yellowhammer, the Eurasian tree sparrow, the corn bunting, the Eurasian skylark and the common reed bunting.

The researchers recorded the density of birds at different distances from the turbines and found that aside from the pheasant, the structures posed no problems.

The study did not look at the danger of the birds colliding with the turbines, which has been a worry of conservationists, Whittingham said."

Read the full story here.

I also found the same story at the BBC News with further comment from Whittingham: He added that previous research had shown that turbines did have a negative impact on larger species, such as waterbirds and raptors, which are primarily found in coastal and upland regions.

"There is increasing conservation concern about the impact of wind farms on these species in these areas, so applications to build new turbines are increasingly focusing on other sites, especially lowland farmland in central and eastern England."

However, the study did reveal that the distribution pattern of common pheasants had altered as a result of the wind farms.

Dr Whittingham told BBC News that the surveys were carried out over the winter months: "We would advocate that [a study] during the breeding season needs to be done as well."

Read the full BBC article here.

So, I am still up in the air on the wind issue. On the surface, this news story seems to say, "Hey, wind energy isn't that bad to birds as long as we avoid migratory flyways and focus on farmland...however, the study was done in the winter--not during the breeding season. We still need to know how this affects nestlings. Will it still be okay? Will the young birds learn how avoid wind turbines when they learn to fly? Or, will fledgling and breeding birds chasing each other have a higher mortality around the turbines? Are the turbines okay in winter, but not something birds want to nest on during the breeding season? I know when we go to Felton Prairie during the Detroit Lakes Festival of birds, there's a wind turbine and there are breeding marbled godwits, chestnut-collared longspurs, upland sandpipers, bobolink, and western meadowlarks just to name a few.

And there's still the raptor and waterfowl issue to deal with. I see this as hopeful news, but we need more study. It would be great if we could avoid migratory flyways with the wind turbines.