Gone With the Windmill: Are Turbines Death Traps for Birds?

You’ve probably heard that wind turbines result in epic bird kills. But ornithologist Caleb Gordon, PhD, believes that’s one epic misconception.

With 20+ years studying migrant avian ecology, including creating the Shaw Woods Avian Monitoring Project at Lake Forest College and serving as a federally licensed master bird bander, Gordon now studies the ecological impact of wind farms with Normandeau, an environmental science-based consulting company in Florida. In other words, the guy knows what he’s talking about when it comes to bird populations.

Having recently gotten his input on the topic of building collisions, we just had to share his quick and surprising soundbite on wind turbines to, ahem, clear the air.

“With wind power, you really do have a popular misconception that they are these giant Cuisinarts causing a bird holocaust. But [the mortality rate] is unbelievably small. These numbers are not controversial—especially in comparison to things like buildings that kill hundreds of millions of birds per year compared with wind power that kills about 150,000 in the country per year—at least 1,000 times less.

“I frequently ask people this: ‘So one of these big turbines, which produces enough megawatts to power 300 homes, and is 80 meters tall, with a hub that itself is the size of a school bus, and with blades that are like a 747…How many does one kill per year?’ Lots of people guess 1,000 per year. It’s 2.96. That’s the annual mortality rate. People ask, ‘why couldn’t they design ones to kill fewer birds?’ You can’t. It’s a big structure and the mortality rates are already so low you can’t get it any lower than that.”

“People unconsciously equate [wind farm mortality] with things like big communication towers with steady burning lights, where many nocturnal migrant birds die in cloudy conditions. In the peak of migration season, that can be as many as 10,000 dead birds in one night on one tower—that’s actually happened. There’s never been anything even remotely like that at a wind facility. Birds are just not attracted into them like they are into lights.”

And there you have it—an expert clarifies that wind energy is not the bird-devil that so many of us have perceived it to be. Bring on the clean energy!