What are the impacts of wind power on birds?

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What are the impacts of wind power on birds?

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As one of Europe’s leading wildlife charities, the RSPB’s work is all about ensuring that birds and other wildlife can thrive – forever.

Climate change poses the single biggest threat to birds and other wildlife. Current science suggests that one third of all land-based species could be committed, by 2050, towards eventual extinction if extensive action is not taken to reduce our carbon footprint.

This means that low carbon energy sources like wind turbines play a significant role in saving nature.

Knowing and understanding the risks that wind turbines pose allows us to use this renewable energy source in a way that can be beneficial to the climate whilst avoiding adverse impacts on nature.

Wind turbines are generally not a major cause of bird or bat death, and there is very little evidence that they have caused population level declines in any bird species.  We are nonetheless well aware that there are examples of badly located wind farms.  Partly as a result of the RSPB’s effective opposition to inappropriately sited proposals, no wind farm currently in operation in the UK is a significant threat to any bird species.

The actual impact a turbine has on birds using a site is dependent on factors like how high they fly, how well they avoid hazards and how successful they are at finding new places to live. The type of habitat, topography and precise layout and design of the turbine(s) are also key to minimizing risks at a specific site.

Even with all this in mind, there are enough  areas of land in any country or region to generate wind power where significant impact on bird species will be unlikely. Chapter two, section 2.3 of our recent report reviews all the latest scientific evidence. You can find it here.

There are three main ways wind turbines can affect local populations of bird; direct habitat loss or damage, displacement and collision. All of these can be avoided or managed so that they no longer pose a significant threat to local wildlife.

1. Direct habitat loss. Turbine bases and access roads normally take up just a few percent of the land area at a wind farm site. Normally, the remaining 95-99% of the habitat can be maintained in good condition and in some cases can even benefit from ‘enhancements’ that are provided by the developer. However, some protected habitats for birds or other wildlife are so rare and irreplaceable they must be avoided for development at all cost.

2. Disturbance and displacement. Noise, vehicles and people that come with building a wind farm can disturb birds, sometimes to such an extent that they never return. However, some birds get used to the presence of turbines – pink footed geese are a great example of this. Other species, like upland waders, may return to a site once turbines are operating but in fewer numbers. Others may fly around rather than over or through a wind farm, making it more difficult for them to get food. As long as the behaviour of the species that live on a site is understood, it is often possible to minimize such impacts – or if that’s not possible, then the site may prove to be inappropriate for a wind development and we’d take action accordingly.

3. Collision. It is well known that birds and bats can be killed by colliding with wind turbines, but this is neither inevitable nor unique to wind turbines, and must be considered in context.  Moreover, just like us avoiding lampposts on a pavement,  most birds avoid turbines most of the time. As long as the turbine is in a sensible place that isn’t high in bird traffic. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that some bird deaths are due to turbine collision. Importantly, we need to consider which species could be affected and whether the additional loss of some individuals will affect their population.

Wind farms, if carefully planned and installed responsibly, are firmly part of the solution to overcoming major long-term threats to wildlife by helping reduce carbon levels. This is why the RSPB works with developers, helping to ensure they don’t cause a problem in the short term either.

Leave us a comment and tell us what you think...

  • Hi-

    IMHO  glass windows especially in tall buildings may cause more bird deaths.  A one-time colleague of mine from waaay back ,    Dr Dan Klem  has done a lot of work on this and the numbers in the USA seem to be horrifying.