Birds VS Windmills


SOURCE: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 

February 13 2011 By Shannon M. Nass,

Majestic white towers with powerful, spinning blades are beginning to dapple ridge lines along the Pennsylvania horizon. Supporters claim windmills provide a clean source of sustainable and renewable energy producing no air or water pollution, decrease the greenhouse effect, diminish reliance on fossil fuels and may hold the answer to rising gas and petroleum prices.

But windmills remain controversial as wildlife, including waterfowl game species, fall victim to the spinning blades. Wind farm opponents say ducks and geese are at risk at a proposed off-shore venture in the Lake Erie flyway, which extends from Pennsylvania’s Erie coastline through the Pymatuning Lake region. Two state senators have scheduled a public meeting on offshore wind energy for next month.

“There is direct mortality for birds from collisions with the turbines,” said Tracey Librandi Mumma, wind energy project supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Wind-power supporters argue that modern turbines kill about the same number of birds as vehicles, buildings, power lines and telecommunication towers. Mumma concedes the mortality statistics are comparable to other developments, but there is a more pressing issue.

“The game commission is more concerned with what species are being killed and how many,” Mumma said. “We don’t want a windmill to be put up in an area where we know we have threatened or endangered species.”

To address these and other issues, such as loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation, the commission has established an environmental review process as part of its Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement. By signing the agreement, wind developers agree to conduct a one-year pre-construction survey followed by two years of post-construction mortality monitoring. To date, 29 wind developers have signed.

“If you’re signing the cooperative agreement with us, your intent is not to kill birds and mammals,” said Mumma. Companies that put up windmills without signing the agreement can be fined by the commission.

Proposed land-based and offshore wind development projects in the Lake Erie region recently have raised concerns about the effects of windmills on migratory waterfowl.

“We consider that a high-risk area for birds because there are known stop-over sites and foraging areas,” Mumma said.

The wind turbine industry’s interest in Pennsylvania is sparked in part because no state siting permit is required for wind energy projects. Apex Energy, a developer considering installing offshore wind turbines on Lake Erie, has signed the Voluntary Cooperative Agreement. The company’s Tim Ryan, who recently met with the SONS of Lake Erie sportsmen’s group for an information gathering session, said the windmills have a marginal impact on waterfowl and other birds, citing a National Wind Coordinating Collaborative study that found modern land-based turbines were in some ways safer for birds than lower, less efficient windmills of the past.

Ryan deflected concerns that birds could become weakened flying around blade tips that can reach 425 feet from the ground on land-based turbines.

“I’ve not heard that statement before and I’m not a scientist. I think that’s something that should be investigated by people who qualify to comment on that rather than speculated on by amateurs,” he said. “It sounds like a theory that some people could think is reasonable, but birds fly around lots of things all the time. It’s a scientific question that certainly would be studied on an offshore wind project along with any other questions about birds.”

Mumma said until more research can be conducted on mortality minimization efforts, the question remains as to whether the benefits of building windmills outweigh the risks.

“Right now, there are so many unknowns,” she said. “There are so many factors there with the economics and our dependence on fossil fuels. I don’t know how to weigh the till.”

Neither does Ducks Unlimited, which has no official policy regarding off-shore or near-shore wind turbines’ impact on waterfowl. Gildo Tori, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes and Atlantic office, said there’s not enough data on the emerging industry.

“There’s very little data to show direct impacts on waterfowl,” he said. “Our concern is the commonsense intuition that in areas close to shores with coastal wetlands, placement of wind towers in migratory bird zones is probably not a good idea.”

Two Pennsylvania state senators are beginning to gather data. Jane M. Earll, R-Erie, and Mary Jo White, R-Franklin, will hold a joint public information hearing on offshore wind energy 9:30 a.m. March 14 at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, Erie. Submit questions, concerns and opinions at

John Hayes contributed to this story.

Links to papers about wind turbine impacts to wildlife and habitat

Birds & Wind Farm: selected useful papers and reports


Reviews, Mapping Guidance, Links to reports and proceedings:


Bright, J.A., Langston, R.H.W., Bullman, R., Evans, R.J., Gardner, S., Pearce-Higgins, J., & Wilson, E. 2006.  Bird sensitivity map to provide locational guidance for onshore wind farms in Scotland.  RSPB Research Report No. 20.  RSPB, Sandy.   Downloadable from


Bright, J. A., Langston, R. H. W., & Anthony, S. 2009. Mapped and written guidance in relation to birds and onshore wind energy development in England.  RSPB Research Report No. 35.  RSPB, Sandy.


BirdLife International report to the Bern Convention:

Langston, R.H.W. & Pullan, J.D. (2003). Windfarms and birds: an analysis of the effects of wind farms on birds, and guidance on environmental assessment criteria and site selection issues.  Report T-PVS/Inf (2003) 12, by BirdLife International to the Council of Europe, Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.  RSPB/BirdLife in the UK.  Available free to download from: - previous link no longer works and have not relocated document.


The report is also available available to download from the BirdLife International website: or third item on list


or as a pdf from


The draft recommendation, included in the above report, from the Bern Convention has been revised, Recommendation No. 109 (2004) on minimising adverse effects of wind power generation on wildlife:


This recommendation, together with the recommendation from the BOU conference prompted the establishment of a working group on birds and wind farms which is jointly chaired by DG Env & DG TREN.  This group comprises representatives from industry, country specialists and NGOs. This group has contributed information and expertise to EU Guidance, largely intended for member states, but with wider geographical application. This guidance has been through a first draft and comments, but came to an extended halt until 2008 – now in consultation draft, due to be finalized by the end of 2008.


BirdLife International Position Statement on Wind Farms and Birds first item on list


Hötker H, Thomsen, K-M & Jeromin H (2006) Impacts on biodiversity of exploitation of renewable energy sources: the example of birds and bats - facts, gaps in knowledge, demands for further research, and ornithological guidelines for the development of renewable energy exploitation. Michael-Otto-Institut im NABU, Bergenhusen.


IUCN Report: Wilhelmsson, D., Malm, T., Thompson, R., Tchou, J., Sarantakos, G., McCormick, N., Luitjens, S., Gullström, M., Patterson Edwards, J. K., Amir, O., & Dubi, A. 2010.  Greening Blue Energy: Identifying and managing biodiversity risks and opportunities of offshore renewable energy. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. 102pp.


Proceedings of the British Ornithologists' Union (BOU) Annual Conference 2005:

Ibis March 2006 - Vol. 148 Issue s1 Page 1-109 Wind, Fire and Water, Langston, R. (ed) – available free to download (you can download individual papers) from Papers include:

Ø        Chamberlain, D.E., Rehfisch, M.R., Fox, A.D., Desholm, M. & Anthony, S.J. 2006.  The effect of avoidance rates on bird mortality predictions made by wind turbine collision risk models, 198-202. 

Ø        Desholm, M., Fox, A.D., Beasley, P.D.L. & Kahlert, J. Remote techniques for counting and estimating the number of bird-wind turbine collisions at sea: a review, pp 76-89

Ø        Drewitt & Langston Assessing the impacts of wind farms on birds, pp 29–42

Ø        Fox, A.D., Desholm, M., Kahlert, J., Christensen, T.K., & Krag Petersen, I.B.  Information needs to support environmental impact assessment of the effects of European marine offshore wind farms on birds, pp 129-144

Ø        Hüppop, O., Dierschke, J., Exo, K.-M., Fredrich, E. & Hill, R. 2006.  Bird migration studies and potential collision risk with offshore wind turbines, pp 90-109


Ø        Madders, M., & Whitfield, D.P. 2006.  Upland raptors and the assessment of wind farm impacts, pp 43-56


Statutory Guidance, Links for guidance documents, issued by statutory conservation agencies:


Defra (2005) Nature Conservation Guidance on Offshore Windfarm Development - A guidance note on the implications of the EC Wild Birds and Habitats Directives for developers undertaking offshore windfarm developmentsNB this report is being updated and the link for the existing version no longer works.


Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued a series of guidance notes on wind energy, including bird survey methods, assessing collision risk, significance of impacts on Natura 2000 sites and outwith Natura 2000 sites, monitoring protocols:


Scottish Government publications are available at

and include:

Guidance on implementation in Scotland of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives:



The DECC (UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change) was formed in 2008 and comprises the energy sections of BERR (UK Government Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) with the climate change functions of Defra (UK Government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs).  All three website have some useful reports, including the following reports by WWT Consulting on the programme of aerial surveys in the strategic areas for Round 2 offshore wind energy development, jointly funded by government and industry (RSPB was instrumental in initiating this programme):


DTI (2006) Aerial surveys of waterbirds in strategic wind farm areas.  2004/05 Final Report.  Department of Trade and Industry, London.


DBERR (2007) Aerial surveys of waterbirds in strategic wind farm areas: 2005/06 final report.  Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (formerly DTI), London. 


Both reports are available from:



COWRIE Collaborative Offshore Wind Research Into the Environment reports are freely downloadable, some under tab for Overview from COWRIE I, including:


Marine bird survey methodology (aerial and boat-based surveys)

Remote techniques (including radar & thermal imaging)

Displacement of birds

Population Viability Analysis feasibility study

Cumulative Effects towards developing guidance

Migration of whooper swans in relation to offshore wind farms

Breeding terns and offshore wind farms


Most of these projects are the subjects of updates either underway or soon to be commissioned.  See also the News section.



Useful published papers include:


Barrios, L. & Rodríguez, A. 2004. Behavioural and environmental correlates of soaring-bird mortality at on-shore wind turbines. Journal of Applied Ecology 41: 71-81

Bright, J.A., Langston, R.H.W., Bullman, R., Evans, R.J., Gardner, S., & Pearce-Higgins, J.W.  2008. Map of bird sensitivities to wind farms in Scotland: a tool to aid planning and conservation.  Biol. Conserv. 141: 2342-2356.

Bright, J.A., Langston, R.H.W., Pearce-Higgins, J.W.,  Bullman, R., Evans, R.J., Gardner, S., & 2008: Spatial overlap of wind farms on peatland with sensitive areas for birds.  Mires and Peat 4 (2008/09), Article 07,  International Mire Conservation Group and International Peat Society

De Lucas, M., Janss, G. F. E., Whitfield, D. P., & Ferrer, M. 2008.  Collision fatality of raptors in wind farms does not depend on raptor abundance.  Journal of Applied Ecology 45: 1695-1703

Desholm, M. 2006. Wind farm related mortality among avian migrants - a remote sensing study and model analysis.  PhD thesis, Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Biodiversity, National Environmental Research Institute & Center for Macroecology, Institute of Biology, University of Copenhagen. 

Desholm, M. & Kahlert, J. 2005. Avian collision risk at an offshore wind farm.  Royal Society Biol. Lett.  1:296-298.

Drewitt, A. L. & Langston, R. H. W.  2008. Collision effects of wind-power generators and other obstacles

on birds.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1134: 233-266.

Everaert, J. & Stienen, E. W. M. 2007. Impact of wind turbines on birds in Zeebrugge (Belgium) Significant effect on breeding tern colony due to collisions.  Biodiversity and Conservation 16: 3345-3359

Garthe, S. & Hüppop, O. 2004. Scaling possible adverse effects of marine wind farms on seabirds: developing and applying a vulnerability index.  Journal of Applied Ecology 41: 724-734

Kulevsky, W. P. Jr., Brennan, L. A., Morrison, M. L., Boydston, K. K., Ballard, B. M., & Bryant, F. C. 2007. Wind energy development and wildlife conservation: challenges and opportunities.  J. Wildlife Management 71: 2487-2498

Kunz, T. H., Arnett, E. B., Cooper, B. M., Erickson, W. P., Larkin, R. P., Mabee, T., Morrison, M. L., Strickland, M. D., & Szewczak, J. M. 2007.  Wind Energy Development on Birds and Bats.  J. Wildlife Management 71: 2449-2486

Larsen, J.K. & Guillemette, M. 2007.  Effects of wind turbines on flight behaviour of wintering common eiders: implications for habitat use and collision risk.  Journal of Applied Ecology 44: 516-522

Martin, G. R. & Shaw, J. M. 2010.  Bird collisions with power lines: Failing to see the way ahead?  Biol Cons IN PRESS

Masden, E. A., Haydon, D. T., Fox, A. D. & Furness, R. W. 2010.  Barriers to movement: modelling energetic costs of avoiding marine wind farms amongst breeding seabirds.  Mar Poll Bull 60: 1085-1091.

Masden, E. A., Fox, A. D., Furness, R. W., Bullman, R. & Haydon, D. T., 2010.  Cumulative impact assessments and bird/wind farm interactions: Developing a conceptual framework.  Environmental Impact Assessment Review 30: 1-7.

Pearce-Higgins, J. W., Stephen, L., Langston, R. H. W., & Bright, J. A. 2008. Assessing the cumulative impacts of wind farms on peatland birds: a case study of golden plover Pluvialis apricaria in Scotland.  Mires and Peat 4 (2008/09), Article 01,  International Mire Conservation Group and International Peat Society

Pearce-Higgins, J. W., Stephen, L., Langston, R. H. W., Bainbridge, I. P., & Bullman, R. 2009. The distribution of breeding birds around upland wind farms.  Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 1323-1331

Smallwood, K. S. 2006. Burrowing Owl Mortality in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. J. Wildlife

Management 71 (5): 1513-1524.

Smallwood, K. S. 2007. Estimating Wind Turbine-Caused Bird Mortality J. Wildlife Management 71 (8):


Smallwood, K. S. & Thelander, C. 2008. Bird Mortality in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area,

California. J. Wildlife Management 72 (1): 215-223.

Smallwood, K. S., Rugge, L., & Morrison, M. L. 2009.  Influence of Behaviour on Bird Mortality in Wind Energy Developments. J. Wildlife Management 73 (7): 1082-1098

Stewart, G.B., Pullin, A.S. & Coles, C.F. 2007. Poor evidence-base for assessment of windfarm impacts on birds.  Environmental Conservation 34 (1): 1-11. 


Other information sources - international


USA, Avian reports:

Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee Recommendations.  March 2010



Australia, Draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines, July 2010:




Wind Turbines and Birds: A Guidance Document for Environmental Assessment

Environment Canada 2007



Norway, Smøla studies, progress reports


Bevanger, K., Berntsen, F., Clausen, S., Dahl, E. L., Flagstad, Ø. Follestad, A., Gjershaug, J.O., Halley, D., Hanssen, F., Lund Hoel, P., Johnsen, L., Kvaløy, P., May, R., Nygård, T., Pedersen, H.C., Reitan, O., Steinheim, Y. & Vang, R. 2009. ”Pre- and post-construction studies of conflicts between birds and wind turbines in coastal Norway”. Progress Report 2009. NINA Report 505. 74 pp.

Bevanger, K., Clausen, S., Flagstad, Ø. Follestad, A., Gjershaug, J.O., Halley, D., Hanssen, F., Lund Hoel, P., Jacobsen, K.-O., Johnsen, L., May, R., Nygård, T., Pedersen, H.C., Reitan, O., Steinheim, Y. & Vang, R. 2008a. ”Pre- and post-construction studies of conflicts between birds and wind turbines in coastal Norway”. Progress Report 2008. NINA Report 409. 55 pp.

Bevanger, K., Follestad, A., Gjershaug, J.O., Halley, D., Hanssen, F., Johnsen, L., May, R., Nygård, T., Pedersen, H.C., Reitan, O. & Steinheim, Y. 2008. ”Pre- and post-construction studies of conflicts between birds and wind turbines in coastal Norway”. Statusrapport 1. januar 2008b. NINA Rapport 329. 33 pp.


RSPB/Rowena Langston/ update 17 August 2010