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Think Spinning Turbines Are Bad For Birds? Look At Where You’re Sitting

Think Spinning Turbines Are Bad For Birds? Look At Where You’re Sitting
[Image: Bird flying near building via Shutterstock]

Wind turbines kill birds. It’s a fact that critics of the wind industry love to repeat. See, for example, the work of Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Reading his frequent writing on the issue, you would think that wind turbines are a singular menace to airborne life, a threat like no other.

The truth is a little less dramatic. In fact, wind turbines are bad for birds, but buildings are worse. And so are electricity transmission lines and pesticides. And cats. (Birds have many enemies.) You can see as much from this graphic that Bloomberg News put together from U.S. Forest Service data. It shows the relative carnage from turbines compared to other deadly threats:


This isn’t to minimize the damage that wind farms do. The Wildlife Society estimates that turbines kill 573,000 birds (and 888,000 bats) every year, including many eagles. It does add some context, though. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says power lines kill 175 million birds a year, and nobody complains much about them, except to say we might consider putting more pylons underground.

Look at these photos of the strangely beautiful dead birds found at the foot of buildings.

In any case, the wind industry is well aware of the problem and is working to fix it. (Grist recently outlined eight possible solutions, from better siting away from migration routes to ultrasonic device that could deter birds from getting too close). More to the point, complaining about bird deaths without weighing up wind’s larger environmental benefits is to miss the wood for the trees. Turbines are bad for birds, but fossil fuels are surely worse overall.

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