Birds, Windows, and Wind Turbines

A new study from the University of Alberta says that as many as 22 million birds are killed per year in Canada by flying into windows.

The study collected data from 1700 homeowners in Edmonton, and extrapolated the results to all of Canada.

Of course the deadly nature of windows is already well known, and groups like FLAP do a good job working with high rise building owners to reduce the impact of window strikes.

Today, Canada has about 5500 MW of wind turbines, or about 3000 turbines. The average turbine kills 2 birds per year. So there are about 6000 bird deaths per year from wind turbines. So wind turbines kill .00027 times as many birds as windows do. The study I had conducted for the Ferndale turbines found zero bird strikes.

Lets suppose we increase the installation of wind 13 fold. What would this do? First, it would supply 40%% of the country’s electricity. When combined with the 60% from waterpower, 100% of supply would be from non-emitting sources. And wind would kill .0035 times as many birds as windows do. Put another way, windows would kill 300 birds for every bird killed by wind. And the emissions from fossil fuels used to generate electricity would drop to zero, as would the creation of nuclear waste. Fossil fuel use causes smog, acid rain, and climate change. Climate change will cause species loss, not just individuals. An article in Nature suggested 15-37% of the world’s species of all kinds – not just birds – could go extinct from climate change by 2050. Wind turbines kill a small number of individuals, but may well contribute to saving species.

It is important to remember that killing of birds is always species specific. Killing a whooping crane, an endangered species, is a very different thing than killing a seagull or starling. So this perspective does not mean that wind developers shouldn’t do scientific studies to determine the impact of a project before building it. And we need ongoing fundamental science on bird habits in general, including around wind turbines.

Of course this is a thought exercise. There would be many challenges in getting 40% of our power from wind, including enhancing electricity storage and shifting demand to match windy times. But it does put the birds issue in perspective.

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