Sustainability Energy

Do wind turbines really slaughter birds?

a photo of a wind farm

Story at a glance

  • A new study estimates that 150,000 birds are impacted by wind turbines each year in the United States.
  • To keep that in perspective, billions of birds are killed annually by cats.
  • Wind turbines can be made even safer for birds through simple fixes in design and location.

Opponents of wind energy often bring up the birds and bats that wind turbines kill as a way of undercutting the move to renewable sources of energy. Wind turbines do kill birds and bats that collide with the blades, but new research suggests simple adjustments can reduce the number of deaths even further, E360 Digest reports. 

Estimates of how many birds are killed by wind turbines are all over the place, but the new study estimates that roughly 150,000 birds are hit by wind turbines each year in the United States. It might seem callous to call that number small, but it pales in comparison to the carnage wrought by cats, which kill more than a billion birds annually.

The study looked at 1,670 wind turbines and 86 bird observation routes in 36 states from 2008 to 2014. An estimated three birds were lost for every turbine located within around 1,000 feet of bird habitat, the researchers report in Energy Policy. As the turbines’ distance from bird habitat increased, the bird deaths decreased.

The researchers recommended keeping wind turbines outside a 1 mile buffer around areas with large populations of birds. They also found that physical changes to the turbines had positive effects: Taller turbines with shorter blades reduced bird deaths. These recommendations could help make wind energy safer for birds.