A new research paper in The Condor: Ornithological Applications highlights yet another negative impact of wind energy on bird populations. It’s already been estimated that between 140,000 and 380,000 birds die each year due to collisions with wind turbines. The new study, led by authors from multiple universities, found that it’s not just collisions that can harm bird populations.
The authors looked at Greater Prairie Chicken populations near wind farms and found that nest abandonment was significantly higher on leks within 8 kilometers (~5 miles) from a wind turbine. They also found slightly lower weight birds closer to wind turbines. It’s not just the turbines themselves that are an issue, it’s increased human activity, and energy and transportation corridors connecting wind turbines.
So to summarize, fossil fuel burning results in carbon emissions and global warming and also severely impacts habitat at extraction sites. Solar energy has been implicated in the direct incineration of birds unlikely enough to encounter a solar farm. Wind farms now have been implicated not only in direct collision deaths, but negative impacts on successful breeding. In other words, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, regarding any “bird-friendly” choices for energy production.
To me there’s still no question that either solar or wind are much better environmental options than fossil fuels. Impacts for solar and wind are local, while fossil fuel burning causes both local habitat destruction, and global impacts on climate. It’s depressing to think that even birds 5 miles from a wind turbine could be negatively impacted, but to me wind farms are the lesser of the various energy evils out there.