Wind Farms V Birds

Originally a letter published in the Sentinel Times. It can be found here.

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About wind farms as hazard to birds, especially eagles, it’s a cyclic debate of wildlife v clean energy (‘Birds will die at Bald Hills’, Sentinel-Times 6/1/15, p16).
Here’s how it usually goes:
1. “Fossil fuels are killing the planet and everything on it (including birds). Let’s switch to renewables like solar and wind.”
2. “Shock, horror, birds are being killed by wind turbines, and I love birds and believe endangered species should be protected.
3. “Punish wind farms for killing birds!”
4. “Wait, if we stop building wind farms, or use big monetary fines to discourage building them, it just continues our dependence on fossil fuels.”
5. See 1.
Looking at bird conservation expert reports in USA, about what are the biggest threats to bald eagle and golden eagle populations, interestingly, you don’t find a single mention of wind energy development as a
major threat.
In fact, when you compare numbers, wind turbines are a relatively small threat (responsible for about 13 deaths a year), and there are some easy things we can do to alert birds to this new danger.
Four things that kill more protected birds than wind farms:
1. DDT: Depending on your age, you might remember that bald eagles nearly went extinct in the 1960s because of widespread use of pesticide DDT. While this toxin didn’t kill eagles outright, it compromised integrity of egg shells, killing many chicks before they had the chance to be born. Eagle population plummeted until US government banned DDT in 1973. However, other countries, like Mexico, still allow its use. Unfortunately, wind carries DDT across man-made borders, so USA bird populations are still affected.
2. Electrocution: According to researchers at Vanderbilt University, electrocution is among the top five causes of bald eagle, golden eagle and raptor deaths. These fatalities occur when the large birds land on power lines, and their wings or feet accidentally touch two lines and form a circuit. Bald eagles may also fly directly into power lines that are not visible in poor weather conditions. Both situations kill the bird instantly. Bigger and longer power lines make this more of a hazard from fossil fuel power stations.
3. Lead: Most people know it’s illegal to kill or harm a bald eagle in any way, so poaching, while still a problem, is rare. However, hunting of other species still kills these majestic birds. “Lead poisoning has become one of the primary causes of death for bald eagles. This poisoning occurs when the bald eagle feeds off carrion (dead animals) that have been shot with lead bullets,” explains Particularly at risk are warm climates where the bald eagle likes to spend the winter, as these tend to be popular duck and waterfowl hunting grounds.
4. Habitat Destruction: Human development, particularly in coastal and mountainous areas, is another leading cause of eagle deaths. “…eagles depend on shoreline habitats and aquatic food sources, human development in these coveted areas poses the greatest threat to the bald eagle’s survival,” explains “In addition, the cutting of ‘old growth forests’ where bald eagles prefer to nest and perch has conflicted with the interests of people seeking timber for housing and commercial products.”
These threats to protected birds have been known for a long time, yet you don’t see anyone dishing out $1 million fines to hunting organizations, commercial developers or customers of the electric company.
The point is that we need to shift away from fossil fuels immediately.
Oil and coal are finite resources, and every minute we spend addicted to them is speeding climate change, destroying habitat and threatening the survival of every species, including our own.
Instead of punishing wind farms, let’s work to find solutions that will allow turbines and birds to coexist.
Surely it’s now clear that we’re facing instability of weather patterns, causing such expensive damage that it amounts to a climate crisis.
It’s time to make up for lost time.
Bernie McComb, Cowes

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