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Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

A short while ago I read this shocking and disturbing article about bird deaths from wind farms on I immediately asked myself: "Is that really true?" I wanted to know the right answer to this question, whether or not I liked it. If we want to create a peace legacy for future generations, to safeguard the planet for both humans and our non-human friends, we need to know the truth.

The issue is this: the story above claims that millions of birds are killed by wind farms. But a "green" friend I mentioned this to told me that this is absurd: she had studied wind farms in depth, she had personally visited them, and they were the safest, most wildlife-friendly places imaginable; the blades rotate so sedately nothing could possibly be killed by them; and there wasn't a dead or injured bird to be found anywhere around about. She went so far as to wonder if the writers of the above article weren't simply lying through their teeth.

The paradox I was struggling with was this: my green friend is without doubt one of the most truthful people I know. I did not doubt her account for a second. Equally, it seemed impossible that anyone could write such a credible-sounding article as the one linked above. Two truthful sources in direct contradiction - I needed facts that no one could dispute, because if lies are involved (and who won't at least wonder about the possibility?), it isn't good enough to merely discover the truth; I also needed it in a form that would allow anyone to prove it for themselves.So here's what I did.

First, I guessed the answer to the question. Then, I went to authoritative web sites that have a vested interest in my guess being wrong. Why? If my guess is wrong, such sites will have the evidence to show it. I shouldn't uncritically accept such data, but on the other hand, any data they provide that vindicates my guess will be the most credible I have within my power to obtain. Short of actually mounting a massive raw-data investigation of my own (visit wind farms, search for birds, and so on - which I can't afford to do), I cannot be more certain. And since I want to help you to answer the question for yourself as well, only data from an authoritative source will help you.

I could have guessed either way, but I guessed that wind farms do indeed kill lots of birds. Why? Firstly, the link above gives lots of bare facts that can be checked (such as a death toll of over a million per year in Germany alone), whereas my friend's assertions about not finding dead birds is much harder to directly investigate. But the method is sound either way. If the guess is wrong, I'll find evidence of it, then I can reverse my guess and go looking the other direction.

So I started at the European Environment Agency. If they can't be counted as authoritative, enthusiastic supporters of wind farms, I don't know who can. And Lo! I found an official report on their website: "Europe's onshore and offshore wind energy potential". On page 71 there is an appendix about animal deaths.

The first thing I think genuine wildlife and environment lovers need to note about this is the title they give to the section: "Introduction to environmental and social constraints". Why? Well I don't know about you, but animals suffering and dying is not my idea of a "constraint". It is a tragedy. In large numbers or small.

Moving on then. After some not-unexpected patter about saving the planet, the opening paragraph gives us: "The challenge is thus to meet the wind energy targets in a way that minimises the negative impact on biodiversity."

It seems that my and the EEA's attitudes to animal suffering are worlds apart. I don't need (and again, I don't speak for others) a species to be in danger or "biodiversity" to be threatened to be seriously disturbed by animal suffering. And I want to see it discussed openly, not hidden underneath euphemisms like "negative impact". If you love animals, I recommend you download this report and read this section in its entirety. My take: one of the most cruel-hearted, icy, disengaged attitudes towards animals I have seen. I don't entirely blame the writers, because I would hazard a guess that they, like most bureaucrats, are utilitarians (believing in the greatest good for the greatest number). Such a detached view of the suffering of sentient beings almost follows by cold hard logic from this ethic, and this utilitarian 'emotional death' is one of the key reasons I find that the Principle of Goodness offers a more spiritual and caring way to approach these difficult questions.

Anyway, apologies for spending time critiquing the EEA's writing style, but this is a site, above all, on building a peace legacy for our descendants. A pretty sorry legacy it will be, IMHO, if the frigid attitude of the EEA is the one we teach our children.

So let's get down to it. I'll investigate these specific claims:

  • My green friend said not a bird corpse was to be found on her visit to the wind farm, but the article says "Bernd Koop, based on monitoring studies conducted in Holland by Winkelman, estimated there would be 60,000 to 100,000 bird collisions per 1,000 megawatt installed capacity in his country."
  • My friend said the blades spin ever so slowly that they could not possibly take a bird by surprise and hit it, but the article above says they spin at "over 200 miles per hour";

Why am I contrasting my friend's statements with the contrary allegations in this way? Because I have one of those sneaky suspicions that both my friend and the shocking accusations against wind farms will be correct. And I think I know why. So let's start with that EEA report:

Collision risk. Birds and bats may collide with rotors, towers and nacelles or with associated structures such as cables and meteorological masts. There is also evidence of birds being hit by the wake behind the sweeping rotor blades (Winkelman, 1992). With some notable exceptions the majority of studies have recorded relatively low levels of collision mortality but most were based only on finding corpses — a method that may underestimate mortality

 Hmmm. Let's see what "relatively low" means to the EEA:

... the history of modern wind turbines is short and only a single study has been sufficiently comprehensive and long-lasting to produce a thorough analysis of population impacts. This is the study of the golden eagle in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in the Coast Range Mountains of California. Here, wind energy development began in the 1970s and when the number of wind turbines peaked in 1993, 7 300 turbines were operational within an area of about 150 km2 . An estimated 35 000–100 000 birds, 1 500–2 300 of them golden eagles, have been killed by collision here during the past two decades ... the golden eagle population in the Altamont region is declining and that at least part of this decline is due to wind farm mortality ...

As we have been told these studies are probably underestimating, I don't think it can be unreasonable to use, say, 73,000, as an estimate of bird deaths from this one wind farm. That's 10 per turbine in twenty years, or 0.5 per turbine per year.

Now I think it is becoming clear how my green friend and the wind farm critics can both be telling the truth. A bird killed by a turbine will likely be scavenged within a day or two. If you pay a single visit to a wind farm, you'll have to actually walk up to the bases of about 200 turbines to get around a fifty-fifty chance of seeing one dead bird (assuming you don't overlook it in the grass, or it didn't walk away injured and in great pain to die a slow death under cover somewhere).

The problem here is the incredibly low power density of wind farms. A single coal-fired plant will use far less land, produce more power, cost less, and last three times longer. So the entire caboodle needed to power a large city from wind occupies a huge tract of land and needs vast numbers of turbines. The consequence is that a very low probability of disaster for one turbine results in a massive total carnage. Also, so many turbines are needed that costs are prohibitive to install bird warning devices on each and every one.

Looking further in the EEA report, we find higher estimates for bird deaths:

At a few wind farms fatality rates of more than 50 birds per turbine were recorded annually. High-risk farms were either placed on mountain ridges, where chiefly raptors were killed, or near wetlands, where gulls were the main victims.

So the death rate is very much higher where wind farms are the most useful? It's getting worse and worse. But let's take that 50 per turbine figure: That still means a bird is killed by a single turbine only every seven days or so. Anyone visiting a wind farm is unlikely to ever see a dead bird, despite what any real lover of our nonhuman friends must surely consider an horrific death toll. Elsewhere the report tells us various other estimates for bird collisions; it tells us the shocking finding that bat deaths (between 0 and 50 per turbine per year) probably outnumber bird deaths - yet surely there are far more birds than bats? These figures, IMHO, represent shame on the human race for producing such a monstrous killing system - and being so very proud of it. Incidentally the report also tells us other unexpected dangers from these systems, such as damage to the hearing of dolphins and seals.

Let's pursue the total deaths question. Obviously there is no real data available to answer this accurately, but in light of the above, I think it must surely be conservative to use twenty bird+bat deaths per turbine per year. So how many turbines are there? Surprisingly, this is a hard question to find an answer for on the web. But we can make an estimate. On page 5, the report tells us "At the end of 2008, there were 65 GW of wind power capacity installed in the EU." Page 15 tells us that current average turbine power is "1—1.5MW". (Don't they know the correct answer?) Anyway, let's take 1.25MW as the average across the EU. That gives us something like 52,000 turbines. At 20 deaths each, that gives us 1,040,000 deaths per year for the EU. We are told on page 8 that current wind energy represents 3.7% of total energy use, and it is projected to expand to 12%. Then the death rate will be over 3.3 million (and this estimate could easily be many times too small, but is very unlikely to be too large).

I think it is easy to see how a sincere and caring investigator visiting a wind farm will not notice any animal deaths, whilst the hidden death toll is horrific. But why do these killing machines look so safe? What about the blade speed? Remember, my green friend says they spin ever so slowly, certainly far slower than a bird, and so they just can't do any damage. The article about bird deaths, however, said the ends of the blades move at 200 miles/hour (and yes, that can definitely kill any bird on the planet). To answer this question I'll go to the web site of a wind turbine supplier, GE Energy.

According to their specs, a typical wind turbine (picking an average-looking one from the list here) has a diameter of 77m (this is in the range given in the EEA report for current turbines) and a maximum speed of 20.4 rpm. This means the circumference is pi times the diameter, or 241.9m. The outer edge of the blade will sweep out this distance 20.4 times per minute, or 1,224 times per hour, covering a distance of 296km/hour, or 183 miles/hour. That is the result for the very first turbine I investigated. I think we can say that blade speeds of approximately 200 miles/hour are confirmed from an authoritative source. So how can a caring and honest observer fail to see this vicious killer speed?

Here's what I think is going on. It so happens I have had a long-standing interest in model railways, and at times I have had models in what is called OO gauge - 4mm model length for each real-life foot - or 1 in 76. I have at times calculated the speed I should run a train to make it go at a scale 80 miles per hour. 80 miles is 128 kilometres, which is, scaled 1:76, about 46 centimetres per second. Now 80 mph is fast, but a model train running at 46 centimetres/second seems to be dawdling. Onlookers always say "Speed it up! Make it go at a realistic speed!"

Why the complaint? Because, surprisingly, to get similar dynamic effects from a model as from the full-scale original, speeds do not scale in proportion to the lengths. There is a nice description of this effect here. One estimate of the correct way to scale speeds is to divide by the square root of the scale proportion rather than by the proportion itself. In the model railway case, this would give a speed of about 4 metres per second. Now that looks fast! And so is 80mph.

What is this to do with wind turbines? I think the problem comes when we see large objects from a distance. An 80-metre wind turbine way over there on that hill "looks like" a model with a size of maybe six inches. Now that turbine is rotating at 20 revs per minute, or one rev per three seconds. Now hold out your hand and sweep out a six-inch circle, taking three seconds to do so. Easy, isn't it? Nice and slow, even lazy going. Another time I noticed this effect was when I took a parachute jump. From way up there, the world looks slow, the cars on the highway look like slow-moving toys, the descent looks dead easy, but just as the ground approaches, everything speeds up and you suddenly realise just how fast everything really is going. But from a distance, you just can't "get the feeling" for it.

So that's my guess: I think wind farms look safe because our minds unconsciously scale them using a dynamically incorrect formula: we scale them in proportion to their linear scales (in fact we have no choice, that's what we are seeing with our eyes), but a square root scale would be more accurate. The result is we just don't 'see' how violent and deadly they are - one 300km/h blade per second slicing through the air. It is a wonder that far more birds aren't being killed.

But getting back to my green friend again, she has a small wind turbine on her roof, and tells me it provides good backup power for her solar generators when they go offline during the evening, but that wind, alone, doesn't provide full power for their home. Unlike the big turbines, hers, about a metre in diameter, makes a loud buzz as it turns, much like a noisy desk fan. That will guarentee that it never kills a bird - they'll hear it long before they see it. BTW, I think one other important point arises here: wind power may very well be useful and safe on a small-scale 'local' level, whilst being a dangerous monstrosity on a large scale. I imagine a small turbine like hers, with a circular rim to provide an obvious outline for flying animals, and quieter blades, installed on each home: no danger to wildlife, and relief for the power grid.

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Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

well its nice to see that you are not an aginner. where do you think the solution is. power is already costly and wind is only a minor solution in my book. i hate to see wildlife wasted when an alternative might be available. with nevada being taken off the table as a repository for nuclear waste (one of our safest and also most controversial)where do we go for more affordable and socalled environmentally friendly power. as a kid i remember the wind mill powered battery systems on west texas farms before the coops replaced them with the real deal. openly voiced concerns for wildlife doesn't really serve the situation well without presenting an alternative. you back handedly make a point for more coal AND i would think nuclear as i do not believe the go it alone individual systems will pass the muster of overly regulated residential areas where the demand for power is greatest. most cities thru building codes prevent a practical wind turbine on a residence and many home owners associations likewise prevent solar and wind from becoming a reality in neighborhoods that folks residing in have the most wherewithall to try these units out. i don't have the answer and your complaint about dead avian friends doesn't present one either.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Hi Howell, I thought your comments were extremely insightful and helpful, so I have taken the opportunity to write a full blog post about them here. Many thanks!

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Well this is where I may get myself into trouble here.

First let me say that this dilemma has been playing out for quite some time in the SF Bay Area where I live. There is a major wind farm along the ridge line of the Altamont Pass in Livermore California whose blades are blamed for raptor deaths. Having not scoured the area under the turbines for feathery lumps of former hawks I cannot speak to the accuracy of these complaints. Yet, even though I am a lover of birds AND a hunter of some of them, I have come to believe over the years that our avian friends (or prey) have an uncanny adaptive ability in that they demonstrate in only a few generations a Darwinian adaptation to almost any danger, be it unintentional or carefully and scientifically designed. Let me explain.

I am a duck hunter. Every few years a new and improved gadget comes onto the market to aid us waterfowlers, and give us an edge in our annual sojourn into the remote marshes to match wits with a bird whose eyesight and hearing will render harsh and humiliating judgement on all but the most convincing spread of decoys and duck calls.

Over the decades I have observed that by the time the annual migration of wild ducks reaches far enough south to enter our local marshes, many of the ducks have already seen the latest and greatest motion decoys and heard the fanciest duck calls. Only those birds who have not noticed that these stimuli are consistently associated with loud bangs and stinging steel shot in the tail will still be fooled. Not surprisingly, these unfortunate slow learners are swiftly culled from the migrating population and end up on our dinner plates. Those who have learned, or whose eyesight, hearing and decision making are keen, will decide, after a flyover at an altitude just beyond shotgun range, that something is amiss and flare off to another pond. They are the parents of next years nesting season.

Every year the Fish and Game Department comes out with new revised regulations, including updated regulations pertaining to what sorts of technological devices may be used to hunt ducks, and when during the season it is permitted, if at all. Being a governmental body, and therefore requiring due diligence and deliberative processes in the quest for wise laws, the DFG will usually prohibit or strictly limit these sorts of battery operated wing-flapping decoys a few years after they are available to hunters. By then, ironically, natural selection has already rendered them fairly useless.

While ducks may be able to spot an uncovered shiny human face at 200 yards or streak into and out of a marsh at 60 mph, turning on a dime and embarrassing even the most skilled shooter, their eyesight and hearing cannot compare to a Marsh Hawk or a Red Tail Hawk, who can spot a gray-brown mouse from higher up. Raptors are not accustomed to being on guard against danger. They ARE the danger. Being the top of the food chain has not lent itself to being wary and on guard while flying. Now that has changed.

While the ducks eliminated from the gene pool are delicately smoked and served with polenta and a red wine reduction sauce at the McNamara dinner table, the raptors eliminated by spinning blades are left unceremoniously on the ground for horrified raptor lovers to see and grieve. Yet the forces of natural selection in both cases perform the same crucial service, despite our personal agony at the initial cost to the beautiful soaring birds we love to see in the sky. For every raptor struck down by a spinning wind turbine, there is another flying nearby who saw and avoided it, and thought to himself "Jeez!! Didn't Harry see those big things spinning around? What an idiot. I think now that he is dead, I will go bang his wife."

Being wise and deliberative humans, we may now consider whether we should suspend a new viable alternative energy industry because of the initial grief associated with the natural selection now well underway vis-a-vis raptors. I fear all this will do is waste valuable renewable energy, and stifle the incentive for similar investment in alternative energies by those afraid of sudden unforeseeable and protestable results.

It will also deny those birds who can hear the blades slicing through the air the opportunity to bang the wives of their deaf and dead colleagues; to create the next generation of raptors able to live in harmony with the clean energy of the future.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Hi Patrick, I suspect you may have a different definition of loving birds than I do, but putting that aside, I don't think you have made your case.

Ducks have evolved with predators: snakes, raptors, humans, and so on. They need to learn new tricks to keep ahead of the game, so it is quite believable that they learn new deceptions by human hunters and keep out of their way. But a wind turbine moving at 200mph is not related at all to any of the kinds of dangers they have faced during their evolution. As my article points out, even educated human beings who are investigating the turbines specifically with their dangers in mind can be completely deceived (for reasons I explain). If even humans, with senses somewhat similar to those of birds (eyes, ears, etc.) and in addition knowledge of the way the new machine operates, cannot see the danger, there is no reason to think that birds will be able to recognise it.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

I see the answer as being somewhere between that put by Ron and Patrick. In the area where wind turbines are prevalent the bird life will either be wiped out or they will *learn* by going elsewhere because, as Ron said, you can't "adapt" to something moving at 200mph, you just have to get out of the bloody way permanently and that means relocate.
So what we will end up with is significant damage to local ecosystems (how long before declining raptor numbers lead to an explosion of "protected" pockets of rodents?) and as the percentage of energy delivery from wind farms increases these damaged ecosystems will get larger and larger.

So once again we are in the business of stuffing up the planet for our own ends, but this time we are trying to convince ourselves it is for the good of the planet while doing it.

We really do need to get over ourselves!

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Ron may be correct that natural selection and evolution do not have the time available to adapt to this particular threat. No doubt that an altered environment causes changes in the flora and fauna, triggering natural selection, adaptation or migration.

There's a difference between adaptive learning and natural selection. Super strains of bacteria that thrive in the presence of antibiotics are not the result of bacterial learning. It is that antibiotics selectively kill off only those bacteria that are naturally susceptible to the medicine, leaving only the pre-existing resistant bugs to reproduce. Nobody grieves for the dead bacteria, but we acknowledge the process by which they evolve. Adaptive learning occurs only in those creatures--great and small--predisposed and able.

My duck example (sorry Ron) was meant to illustrate that those birds ALREADY clever enough, farsighted enough and endowed with audiophile grade pitch receptors become the successful breed stock in the Canadian breeding ponds each spring, rendering us human marsh dwellers increasingly humbled rather quickly (1-3 years) in evolutionary terms. It's not that the ducks learned. Rather, the learned ducks lived to breed.

In the particular example of the Altamont Pass wind farm, it may very well be that John is right. Some of the soaring hawks like the Red Tail will undergo this "adapt or migrate" period. It also may be that the fast and low flyers like the sparrow hawks will step in and take up the slack in the rodent control department. The diminished Red Tails and increased rodents may also cause the local populations of Gopher Snakes and Rattlesnakes to rebound, since they are both competitors with, AND the prey of Red Tail Hawks.

It would be interesting were it possible to tag and track a large representative population of raptors in the area surrounding wind turbines to see what the real harm is. If all tagged birds died or starved or migrated within a reasonably expected time frame, that would pretty much answer the question. But what if some were killed and some thrived... indefinitely? Could it be that some of these birds, which are able to see the twitching whiskers of a rabbit a mile away, can also multi task enough to notice and avoid blades the length of two city buses spinning in their territory? We will never know unless the actual research is done. What previously unused dormant traits await utilization, to provide selective dominance to the birds so blessed? Perhaps we will never know.

Without knowing, we are left with our beliefs. Generally, I believe that our world is an amazing and self regulating collection of systems. Changes occur within many ecosystems on a continuing and varied pace. While the causes of change within the natural world are varied, and not always from human activity, many clearly are. I will leave it to wiser and more thoughtful people than I to determine if anything mankind does may be termed "natural."

I do notice that occasionally the presumption of humankind's influence on global systems (such as in the climate hyperbole) is vastly overstated to the point of near arrogance. In such cases, I could not agree more with John Thorpe that we really do need to get over ourselves.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Hi John, Patrick,

John, Good point about the rodents etc. We already have rodent plagues from time to time and perhaps this sort of stuff will get worse. Here is Australia, rabbits, etc. have no significant predators except raptors.

Patrick, You are quite right, of course, about the difference between adaptation and selection. It raises a few thoughts. It may be that with something so unprecedented as 200mph blades, all members of a species will be unable to recognise the problem, and thus humans will have simply installed an extermination system for those species.

But if they do act as a selector (some being inately able to spot the danger), there is no reason to believe that those so selected will be neutrally selected for other qualities. Maybe the extra movement and speed judgement means a loss of other mental or physical qualities in the birds so selected for. The magpie family we have known for nine years (as told on demonstrate that birds are not 'just birds'. Our Maggie, we first met as a starving baby that had fallen out of the nest. He made a courageous judgement of insight in trusting our part-alsatian dogs (who could have simply eaten him), following them home, and eating the marrow from their bones to stay alive. He eventually became a magpie king, and chose a remarkable bird, Vicky, for his mate. Together they have taught us so much about magpie society that I have not seen described anywhere else. Now Maggie has died, Vicky has found a mate with exceptional intelligence, who just yesterday told me that there was an eagle above us by doing an eagle imitation for me. I'll be putting the photo up on wingedhearts soon. The thing is, not all magpies are like this. Our other magpie king, Fatty, was a kindly soul but quite unimaginative. His son Billy thinks of nothing much except food - or did, until he fell in love with a nice but conventional bird who follows the rules of polite magpie society. These things might seem 'unimportant' to humans, but I would say the loss is theirs if they think so. But my point is that birds in a species are far from interchangeable units.

What really amazes me is that so many people who imagine they are being gentle on the earth they tread are in fact adopting incredibly callous behaviours towards the very same wildlife they claim to be concerned about. Human concerns (such as being against 'capitalist greed') in fact mould their behaviour much more than any concern for the non-human inhabitants of the planet.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

I have been studying bird mortality at windfarms for 6 years. This is my most-read article on the subject :

other articles here :

Mark Duchamp
President, Save the Eagles International

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for alerting us to your studies. Re Altamont Pass, I found this observation particularly significant:

Being a rich hunting ground free of territorial adults, Altamont attracts young eagles from all over California, and beyond. Dead eagles are replaced by the newcomers, who get killed in turn. The windfarm acts as a black hole, a population sink for eagles in the Western United States.

This is an urgent message that simply must be put out to the public. I greatly applaud your efforts to help. I also notice on your site that you have not been deceived by the global warming hoax.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

I noticed this story that seems to back up the figures:


On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.

ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.

Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.

A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birds—nearly all protected by the migratory bird act—are being whacked every year at Altamont.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

you know this is all interesting and everything but these reports you found may not be correct. the best solution is to spend a certain amount of time to actually do our own investigation about wind farms killing birds to know what the true acount is.

now i understand that this would be a hard thing to do because of the cost of money. but this may be te only wy to solve the problem

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Hi Steven. I don't think that doing our own research for every question to which we need the answer is a practical way to live life. That is why I took the evidence from an official government site and the actual manufacturer of wind turbines - both of whom have a self-interested reason for NOT making the figures as large as the ones they supply. If you go to buy a used car and the salesman says it has some engine trouble, you can pretty well be certain that it does have engine trouble because he gets a commission from selling you the car, so he isn't going to make up problems that are not real. Likewise the European Environment Agency only justifies its existence through solving environmental problems, and wind farms are one of their "solutions". They aren't going to make up nonexistent problems. Also these same figures can be found in many other places. I don't think it is at all credible that the truth is less severe than the figures from these sources admit.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Recently, our lord and savior Al Gore appeared on Conan O'Brien's Late Show here in the U.S. This is the show where he claimed that geothermal energy was viable on a large scale because the earth's core was "millions of degrees" hot. Of course it was later pointed out that this would make the earth hotter than most stars.

In the same show, when discussing wind energy, O'Brien brought up the concerns about bird strikes and the problem they posed for conservationists and bird lovers. Gore dismissed these concerns by citing statistics(and showing a bar graph)about the number of birds killed annually by other causes, including house cats. Wind farms were, of course, shown to be low on the bird slaughter scale by comparison.

Now it must have been clairvoyance on Big Al's part to have been so "prepared" for the host's question. But, what fascinates me is how skillful and tenacious these researchers must have been to accurately gauge the frequency of house cat attacks on birds. I keep imagining these intrepid scientists staked out in gardens and vacant lots throughout the world with their clipboards. How else, I wonder, might such statistics be gathered? After all, even the cats' owners rarely know when their beloved kitty has successfully brought down garden prey. They aren't all deposited proudly on the front doorstep, after all.

Nobody seems to challenge Gore's antics and fantasies. He can make stuff up at will, and journalists go blubbery in their mute hero-worship. I think he is one of the truly "intelligent deranged" of our time.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

I saw a coal truck hit a bird

[Response:] Coal trucks don't deliberately go through the most sensitive parts of the birds' habitats. It's not about whether we can make wildlife perfectly safe, it's about not doing things that are irresponsibly dangerous for them. One wind turbine has about the power output of a normal sedan car. And to get that small power 'return', it travels at 300kph 24 hours a day through the birds' habitat. I've never seen a coal truck do that.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

I think figures are a bit different.

First point: the wind farm in Alamont pass is the worst case in the world, put in the middle of a migration route.
Second: is equipped with small, fast rotors.
At this link:,_California it is said that birds killed at Altamont pass is 0,19 birds/turbine/year (last statistic).
We have monitored wind farms in Italy for three years, located on hilltops, and not a single accident was detected, even if in the area raptors are frequent. A couple of raptors settled at 30 meters from a turbine (60m height, 53 meters diameter, 800kW) without problems.

And here
there are serious statistics on monitored wind farms that show very little fatalities to birds, and in the same web site there are stats showing that birds are killed much more by power lines, glass windows, and obviously pollution (that wind energy is reducing), hunting etc. So the right calculation in my opinione should take into account the birds killed by wind farms (but not taking Altamont multiplied the number of wind farms, it's completely overestimated) and deduct the birds saved thanks to pollution reduction. No only pollution reduction in the coal/oil plant location, but also in the coal/oil extraction site, and along the coal/oil shipping routes, as we can see very clearly right now with the BP platform spilling oil.

Re: radar to avoid collisions

By the way, already a few wind farms are equipped with radars that stop selectively the wind mills where a bird is too close in order to avoid collisions.

It'll be enough to impose the presence of this device to reduce the problem to a non-significant value if compared with pollutants, power lines, cars, hunters etc.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Hi Luca,

Although I mentioned Altamont Pass, the EEA's figures (which we have every good reason to suspect are low) concern Europe, and the wind turbine figues I gave came from a current, modern turbine manufacturer's website. All-in-all, I have greatly underestimated the damage done by these machines, if anything.

Wind energy is not reducing pollution in western nations. Properly-run modern western power plants emit little more than water and plant nutrient, otherwise known as carbon dioxide, which is not a pollutant, and therefore cost not a single animal life from air pollution. Wind farms involve vastly increased power lines, very inefficiently because each wind turbine is such a low energy density device. We cannot eliminate all damage to animals, but it stands to reason that we will do much more of it if we cover vast regions of wilderness with bird and bat killers and all the low efficiency (and therefore high quantity, compared with coal infrastructure for the same power return) power lines.

As for Altamont, if these evil machines are now removed, as they should be, is it even the case that they will have paid for themselves in energy saved, after one takes into account the energy costs of all the metal refining, manufacturing, and transport? I don't know, and I bet you don't either, because the government subsidies given out to faux green energy production mask the true cost (even the true energy and environmental cost) of erecting these things in the first place. In other words, you can't treat the money cost as a measure of the real cost because the free market has been subverted by subsidies.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Excuse me, but are you familiar with how many birds are killed due to collisions with vehicles every year? Collisions with communication towers? Deaths due to Oil & Gas extraction? Deaths from the use of Coal-fired electricity? I only have stats for the US, but let me assure you that Wind Farms in the US account for about 0.003% of the roughly 1 billion anthropogenic bird-deaths per year. 20 times more birds die, per GW-h of electricity generated, as a result of coal-fired electricity than due to the generation of wind power.
So, whilst I understand your compassion for all things avian, if you want to bring an end to the major causes of bird death, then I suggest you urge humanity to give up the use of oil, gas & coal (indeed, *all* sources of energy) abandon all cities & move back into caves-because that's the only way we're going to stop birds from dying. As it stands, though, Wind Power is by far one of the most bird friendly human activities currently practiced.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Excuse me,

Well I'm sure you know already that that's not exactly the way to start a friendly conversation, but OK.

I only have stats for the US, but let me assure you that Wind Farms in the US account for about 0.003% of the roughly 1 billion anthropogenic bird-deaths per year. 20 times more birds die, per GW-h of electricity generated, as a result of coal-fired electricity than due to the generation of wind power.

I don't let anyone assure me of things without providing evidence, especially on a subject where the level of lying and duplicity is as high as it is with 'green' energy. And I find your claim highly unlikely in the extreme. Coal, oil, etc. are extremely concentrated ways to make power compared with wind farms. An average wind turbine makes about as much power as a family car, which is why they need so many of them with all the associated transmission wires etc. A coal plant in  one place needs only one set of transmission wires to connect it's comparatively huge output to the grid, and so on. So for much greater power, much less area of the planet is affected.

On a more philosophical level, I do not agree with the obvious basis of your argument in utilitarian ethics, where the  only thing that matters is a count of how many of this or that happens. The principle of goodness, which is the ethical foundation for this website, assumes that intent, not outcome, is the correct basis for ethical decision making.

Anyone planning to plaster windfarms all over the wildlife areas of our planet (clear-felling natural forests as they are in Denmark for energy they can't use anyway, for example) clearly intends that "acceptable losses" of animal life will occur. This is necessarily the case because wind turbines are such poor collectors of energy. A coal plant is a very much higher concentrator of energy, and, although it often doesn't happen, it would clearly be practical to expend a good amount of that energy building extra protections for wildlife around coal mines, power plants, etc. I do not have to intend to kill any wildlife to set up a useful coal fired power plant, but I do have to make such a choice to set up a wind farm. That is why wind farms are necessarily immoral. A coal fired plant would also be immoral if it was set up without regard for animal welfare, but as I said, that is something that need not happen.

I don't quite know how to take your final paragraph, whether you are being serious or not, but one way or the other you obviously don't understand the huge boon to the life of the planet that humanity has been and will increasingly be in future. A planet without man has no protection against such things as cosmic calamities like asteroid strikes, or, in a distant future, against the increasing heating from the Sun as it evolves into a hotter and deadlier star. Nor, indeed, would the planet have the life-giving CO2 plant food that comes from burning carbon locked up in dead matter like coal and oil. Humans no longer live in caves because we are a toolmaking species, as natural a product of planet Earth as a nightingale or a rose, and our technology stands to be a great boon for the planet as we increasingly learn to use it properly and to further develop our understanding and friendship with other life.

On another philosophical issue, you seem to be advancing a version of the logical fallacy: You can't fix problem X, so don't even try to fix problem Y. But that's a fallacy pure and simple. The fact that I can't stop all bird deaths is no logical or ethical reason not to try to stop them when they are predictably caused by people doing fool things like co-opting vast expanses of wilderness, full of unsuspecting wild creatures, for pathetically bad returns in laughably named "green" energy.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Wow, your arguments seem to be cribbed directly from the Denialist Industry hand-book. You come here to attack wind-farms because of the toll they take on bird life, yet you have no problem with Coal-fired electricity, which kills 20x more birds PER GW-H of electricity generated-you even go so far as pushing another Denialist meme-namely the simplistic "CO2 as plant food" nonsense. For the record, it is nitrogen & water-*not* CO2-which has the greatest impact on plant biomass. Personally I don't even know why I'm dealing with someone who is clearly just using the "poor little birdies" defense to actually defend the monopoly position of the coal & oil industries. For someone to do that, but then accuse others of "lying" really makes me laugh!

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Also, by all means, you can check out a few resources for yourself. Of course, as your aim here is *not* to protect bird-life, but to simply defend fossil fuel energy, then I don't actually think you'll bother-but that's your loss, not mine.

The reality is that a single wind turbine kills fewer birds than a km of road or a single multi-story building, or per acre of land sprayed with pesticides. When I hear you rail against these activities, then maybe I'll buy your cover story about caring about birds.
Another point, have you actually *seen* a coal-fired power station? They are absolutely *massive*, & lets not forget the amount of land that needs to be destroyed in order to excavate the coal or the land needed to bury the millions of tonnes of fly-ash waste left behind from burning coal. Meanwhile, individual wind turbines are increasing their rated output (pre-2000 models could only put out about 600kW per unit, today's models can put out up to 5MW), but are doing so by *spinning slower*. So the average bird death per turbine, & the amount of land needed for construction, continues to decline-whilst the destruction caused by coal-fired electricity will continue to impact all kinds of life across the planet.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?


Only the abstract may be seen in the first article you submitted. How are we supposed to verify the method used to evaluate the birds killed by nuclear and coal plants? Unlike the thousands of people making a living from promoting the wind business, genuine defenders of bird life are all volunteers. We can't afford buying junk science put out by the wind lobby just to be able to put in evidence the tricks and the lies contained therein. I suspect the method in question consists in saying: coal plants cause global warming, global warming cause birds to die (?), and abracadabra: 10 zillion birds are thus killed by coal plants. - Has anyone read the study? Can you tell us the method employed?

We have the abstract, and it says: "wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006". This is incorrect. The San Gorgonio windfarm alone kills that many birds yearly - see the second study you quote

Here is another example of the scientific fraud to be found in studies financed by windfarm interests:

Anyway, the whole argument coal-plants-kill-more-birds is null for a simple reason: coal plants are needed to back up intermittent windfarms (nuclear is not flexible enough for that). Some are being built in France to cushion the variations of wind: 2 at Le Havre, and others in Aveyron and Nièvre.

As for HT power lines, which kill about 250 birds/kilometer/year (Koop study, quoted by the second paper you referred to us): each wind farm requires a HT power line to link it to the grid. If you will have 1,000 windfarms in the UK, at an average of 10 km per windfarm, these power lines will kill:

250 x 10 x 1,000 = 2,500,000 birds a year

Just from windfarm power lines in the UK.

Scotland alone is planning about 500 windfarms.


Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Marcus, your offensive attitude doesn't deserve any reply actually - in fact most or all of your friends on the alarmist websites would simply delete comments far more moderate than yours. However, I and others who reject the global warming scam, such as Anthony Watts on WUWT, don't behave like that.

Let's start with some of your ad hominems, shall we? So my aim is simply to defend the fossil fuel industry? Then why have I participated in the Friends of Felton protests against building a coal mine on prime agricultural land? Or written letters to my local newspaper and the national press opposing the mine? Why did I spend a day to take a complete photo survey of another coal mine build in an irresponsible location and send the lot to activists trying to alert people to the dangers of the mine? Why have I objected to badly-sited coal mines on this very blog? You know nothing about me and you prove your own bad motives by writing hate without any evidence for a word you've said.

Moving on: My aim is *not* to protect bird life? Have you looked at my other main website, Are you an honorary member of a bird family? Has a wild bird on its last day come to you to die in your arms instead of doing the instinctive thing and hiding away in solitary under some bush? Has an Australian magpie mother led you one tree at a time through the bush to show you her nest when other members of her species attack humans who go anywhere near a nest? Has a magpie mother relocated her nest so you can see how the babies are growing before they emerge into the world, and then left you to guard the chicks while she goes to find food? And as for bats, have you personally cared for an orphan bat, paid the $500 in costs (whilst unemployed) to get properly inoculated against rabies which is a condition of being allowed to touch wild bats, made it its bottle five times a day, held it upside down in a 'mummy roll' while it feeds, shared your own bedroom with him so he has company at night, cleaned his wings every day? No? Didn't think so. So keep your offensive personal opinions to yourself, if you don't mind. This site is for discussion of issues, not to give you your personal libel zone.

Not, given your attitude, that I think your comments are sincere by any means, but to take some of your on-topic remarks. As Mark has pointed out, the first study you referred to was behind a paywall, which makes me at least suspect you haven't read it. I have. Here's a piece:

Providing comparisons between the avian deaths from wind electricity and other causes is important, but comparisons thus far have only focused on avian fatalities from non-energy sources. Dozens of studies have noted that millions of birds die annually when they strike tall stationary communications towers, get run over by automobiles, or fall victim to stalking cats. After surveying wind development in California, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming (the 10 states with more than 90% of total installed windpower capacity), the US GAO (2005) calculated that building windows are by far the largest source of bird morality, accounting for 97–976 million deaths per year. Attacks from domestic and feral cats accounted for 110 million deaths; poisoning from pesticides 72 million; and collisions with communication towers 4–50 million (US GAO, 2005).

The Canadian Wind Energy Association estimated that more than 10,000 migratory birds die each year in the city of Toronto between 11p.m. and 5a.m. from collisions with brightly lit office towers (Marsh, 2007). A 29-year study of a single television tower in Florida found that it killed more than 44,000 birds of 186 species, and another 38-year study at a communication tower in Wisconsin found even greater deaths amounting to 121,560 birds of 123 species (Winegrad, 2004). Yet another study projected that glass windows kill 100–900 million birds per year; transmission lines to conventional power plants, 175 million; hunting, more than 100 million; house cats, 100 million; cars and trucks, 50–100 million; agriculture, 67 million (Pasqueletti, 2004). The National Academy of Sciences (2007) reported that less than 0.003% of anthropogenic bird deaths every year were attributed to wind turbines in four eastern states in the United States, and confirmed that collisions with buildings and communication towers pose a much greater risk.

However, since house cats and office windows do not yet produce electricity, the comparisons are less relevant than those that assess avian deaths from other sources of electricity generation.

So after giving all the alarming figures you mention, they promptly admit they are not relevant. Here's a few thoughts off the top of my head why they are not: Cats should be kept indoors, and they very well can be by responsible cat owners. The existence of other irresponsible actions by humans doesn't give this irresponsible behaviour a free pass.

Buildings and dwellings, offices, roads, etc. are unavoidable and have many more purposes than producing power; it isn't that they don't produce power that is relevant, but that they serve entirely additional functions without which we couldn't live. You still don't get the point behind the ethics of this website. Life isn't safe or perfect. We cannot live a harmless life. We can, however, avoid intentionally setting up dangers for other creatures. Case in point, our local bat rescue organisation has made great strides with the Queensland electricity authorities in getting them to space power cables just a bit further apart so that a bat cannot simultaneously touch two cables and thus get an electric shock.

And some of the figures in this quote are unbelievable. Wind association studies? Gimme a break. And about 3,000 deaths per year, or nine or ten a day, from one communication tower? If static objects killed birds at that rate, we'd have carcases all around us. But instead, in my entire life I have seen precisely one bird killed by encountering a human-built static object. One! If that one tower has such a death toll, something is seriously amiss with that one tower, and it should be fixed, not used as an excuse to erect more animal killers.

Also, as Mark points out, the need for coal backup for wind power makes the entire question moot. I'll say some more about this study of yours in a reply to Mark.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Ah, exactly what I've come to expect from the denialist industry-boldly assert that any study, or data, which refutes their denialist position *must* be a lie-but never give any real reasons-except for the usual conspiracy laden nonsense. 80 million birds die on 6 million km of US roads every year-that amounts to more than 10 bird deaths/km of US roads-yet do you ask for cars to be banned? No! 1 to 3 million birds die due to oil & gas excavation every year-not including the terrible toll inflicted by the recent Gulf of Mexico disaster-but do you seek a ban on Oil & gas extraction? No! Still, the reverential tone with which you mention the name of one of your High Priests- the anti-science Anthony Watts-marks you as what you *truly* are-a defender of the coal industry, not a defender of wildlife as you claim. I personally don't mind you being one of Watts' camp followers, but you do owe it to people to be at least remotely honest about it.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Coal "flexible". Ha, that's just too funny. The whole problem with coal & nuclear power is that they're both totally inflexible-they pump out virtually the same amount of electricity 24/7-this usually results in massive overcapacity at night, & can often lead to shortages during the day (especially in the peak of Summer). Still, the more I look at this website, the more I realize its being run by a mob of tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists-the kind who lap up the anti-scientific nonsense of Watts & Nova. Personally I can't believe that I wasted even minutes of my precious time arguing with people such as you-given your tendency to believe that only *you* know the truth. What bugs me is the way you people try & hide it by saying you're all about protecting wildlife, when we know full well that you're actually about protecting the coal & oil industries.

[Reply: I'll let anyone post here who has a point of view about the issue under discussion, but if all you can do is post hate drivel, you'll be the first non-spammer to get banned. I know your sort and I know the psycho game being played - relentless attacks upon personal integrity and motivations to wear people down and warn off other waverers from getting involved lest they too get sprayed with hate venom. But people are now heartily sick of your type and they will stand up to you.]

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Hi Mark,

Your suspicions seem correct about the study behind the paywall. From my reading of it, it:

  • ignores the (very high) cost of building a wind turbine, which is very substantial even amortised over the lifetime of the turbine; those factories, too, are dangerous and we get no information about them from the study.
  • they ignored the power lines connecting wind farms whilst costing the power lines connecting coal power plants to the grid;
  • apart from deaths at the actual plant, they also cost: coal mining (that one's fair enough), acid rain (which can be mitigated with scrubbers etc.), mercury pollution (when they allow me to buy an incandescent light bulb instead of a mercury-filled one, I'll buy into this one), and climate change.

And guess what: you were right. They 'costed' climate change at 4.98 deaths per GwH out of a total of 5.18! I.e., the whole study was a whitewash for wind energy, since CO2 isn't causing significant global warming and global warming is a good thing anyway. So the real coal figure is 0.2 deaths per GWh compared with their admitted, and low-biased figure of "between 0.3 and 0.4" for wind and nuclear. And it occurs to me, if we are costing climate change, then we must also cost all effects of CO2, which include feeding an extra billion people from increased food production, thereby reducing human encroachment on wildlife areas to grow food, and thereby almost certainly meaning that coal fired plants have a net saving of bird deaths!

BTW I read your iberica2000 reference - it really puts the wind farm matter in perspective.

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Oh dear Ron, seems you friends at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are in on the "scam"

Seems they don't oppose Wind Farms nearly as much as you do-if at all-but, then again, they're not a pro-fossil fuel, pro-denialist group posing as Wildlife protectors, like you are.
Comments like this one: "since CO2 isn't causing significant global warming and global warming is a good thing anyway" are just the kind of woolly-headed double-speak I've come to expect from the Denialist Industry. Indeed, your entire comments to date show the usual, delusional mind-set of those who spend to much time listening to Cult Leaders like Anthony Watts rather than taking some time to *think* for themselves.

[Reply: In case you haven't worked it out yet, heaps of people who care for the environment have swallowed the global warming scam hook line and sinker. As for the rest of your comment, if you can't keep your libelous tendencies in check and stick to discussing facts and facts alone minus the hate talk and ad hominems, I'll delete your future comments regardless of what else is in them. I think other readers have seen enough to decide whether your personal attacks have anything to back them or are just a really nasty kind of mind game.]

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?

Oh, & I just couldn't let your comment about mercury pass. The average incandescent globe, run for 8,000 hours (the life-span of a single CFL) will consume 500kw-h of electricity, & each kw-h of electricity generates 0.012mg of mercury. Thus a single incandescent globe produces a total of almost 6mg of mercury in that space of time.
By contrast, the average CFL uses a total of around 100kw-h of electricity over 8,000 hours, & thus generates around 1.2mg of mercury. Assuming that every last mg of mercury used in making a CFL ended up in landfill &-from there-in the environment, that would amount to around 3mg of total mercury from this source. So whilst a single CFL has a life-time mercury content of 4.2mg, your beloved incandescents have a lifetime mercury content of 6mg. Of course, even if broken & ditched in landfill, less than 1/3rd of the total mercury in a CFL makes it back into the environment. Also, most CFL's are now constructed using as little as 1mg-2mg of mercury per globe, & several CFL recycling schemes have already been set up to extract & re-use mercury from CFL's-thus negating 2mg-3mg of their life-cycle mercury contribution. So like all of your arguments, that one simply isn't backed up by the available *facts*. Again, though, your *real* agenda here is that using CFL's mean people use less electricity, which means less profits for the fossil fuel industry-& it is this, not birds, which you're clearly trying to protect.

[Reply: There you were going good making a point about the facts, when you had to go and spoil it all by repeating your defamatory remarks about me and my non-existent connections to the fossil fuel industry - after having ignored the solid proof of my involvement with wildlife over many years that I've already given you. Note: having no remaining excuse for repeating this libel, you might want to check with your solicitor before you do this again. As for light bulbs, (1) the flouro bulbs don't light as well, meaning you need a higher comparative rating to do the same job, and (2) you've ignored production costs - they're more expensive for a good reason, you know.]

Re: Wind Farms: Do they kill birds?


Would you care to explain this thing you wrote: "each kw-h of electricity generates 0.012mg of mercury".

As for your comment: "Coal "flexible". Ha, that's just too funny."
First, your lack of manners remind me of other opponents I had on ornithology fora. In each case, their arrogance was proportional to the weakness of their argument and to their bad faith.

Second: I beg to differ on the question of coal-fired power stations being inflexible. I can show you an article from the highly respected newspaper Le Monde where they quote Philippe Paelinck, from Alstom: "l'avantage du charbon est qu'il permet la flexibilité face à l'irrégularité du courant fourni par les éoliennes". Google language tools translates this as "Coal is (has) the advantage that it allows flexibility with regard to the irregularity of the power supplied by wind turbines."

I speak French, and confirm that the translation is correct (save for "is" that should read "has").

The article talks about 2 coal-fired power stations to be built in Le Havre, and an unknown number in the Aveyron and Nièvre regions (départements). As I remember articles talking about a total of 6 coal-fired power stations for France, to back-up the intermittency of windfarms, the numbers could be 2 stations in Nièvre, and 2 in Aveyron. Here is the link:

If your arguments are solid, you don't need to be arrogant, spiteful, hateful or anything. Just write them, and people will be able to see for themselves if they make sense. Your inclination for ad hominem only reveals your insecurity, i.e. the poor faith you place in your own arguments. It works against you, that's what I am trying to say.