A newly published study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers says that wind energy facilities have killed at least 85 golden and bald eagles between 1997 and 2012—and that eagle fatalities possibly may be much higher.

The study also indicates that eagle deaths have increased dramatically in recent years as the nation has turned increasingly to wind farms as a source of renewable, low-pollution energy, with nearly 80 percent of the fatalities occurring between 2008 and 2012 alone. (See related post: “Wind Farm Faces Fine Over Golden Eagle’s Death.”)

The study, published in the September issue of Journal of Raptor Research, is one of the first efforts to calculate the injuries and deaths suffered by eagles that fly into the blades of horizontal wind turbines. Many of the areas that are promising sources of wind energy unfortunately also overlap with eagle habitats, and eagles are at risk because their senses tend to be focused upon the ground as they look for prey, rather than staring ahead to see spinning blades. Dismemberment or blunt-force trauma from colliding with the turbines seems to be the most common fate for the eagles that fly into the facilities, though at least one eagle was electrocuted.

“This adds to the concerns that we have about protecting the eagle population,” said Alicia King, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s migratory bird program.

However, the significance of the findings is not completely clear.

John Anderson, an official with the American Wind Energy Association, said that the eagle deaths cited in the study only represent an “extremely small portion” of human-caused mortality for both golden and bald eagle species. A statement on the industry association’s website also noted that most eagle fatalities are concentrated at a small number of older wind facilities built in the 1980s, before the interaction of eagles with turbines was well understood.

The study found that the majority of the eagle deaths between 1997 and 2012 occurred in Wyoming, which had 29 deaths, and California, which had 27.  Oregon came in a distant third with six deaths, and three states—Washington, Colorado and New Mexico—each had five eagles killed during that period.  (See related post: “Montana Wind Turbines Give Way to Raptors.”)

The researchers warned that the survey most likely understates the number of eagle deaths, because of a lack of rigorous monitoring and reporting. The study also excluded the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California, where various studies suggest that between 40 and 116 golden eagles are killed annually, according to a 2006 California Energy Commission report, though recently the farm has shown progress in reducing overall bird deaths. (See related post: “Notorious Altamont Wind Area Becomes Safer for Birds.”)

Fish and Wildlife official King said there is a lack of reliable data about overall eagle mortality, but noted that wind energy facilities are just one of numerous risks to the birds, who also die in collisions with power lines and buildings, and are sometimes killed by cars while eating roadkill.

Comments

  1. Brian Glenn
    Texas, USA
    December 7, 2013, 12:27 am

    This is simply outrageous ! Any other pre-existing laws being sold at the White House this week ?

    And Natural gas is a more economic fuel than wind-generation (B/E approximately $6 per mmbtu). So consumers will be paying MORE for electricity being derived from eagle / hawk / geese / bat killing generation !

  2. MAn Bearpig
    UK
    November 3, 2013, 4:51 am

    ” Criss Rosenlof
    Salt Lake City, UT
    September 20, 12:05 pm

    Yes, wind turbines are known to kill birds, but they are small numbers when compared to the number of animals killed by the manufacture of fossil fuels and their use.”

    No this is moving the pea under a different tumbler. As the Eagle population drops – and it will as long as deaths outnumber births and more wind turbines are going to be built – the problem is not going to get any better. So however much lipstick you want to put on this pig, Wind Turbines kill Golden Eagles do you acknowledge that ?

  3. Jacob Newton
    United States
    September 23, 2013, 10:39 am

    The reason they excluded Altamont is because Altamont is an outlier; it uses now non-standard tower constructs; is sited exceptionally poorly. As such the mortality rates are far higher; and the reasons aren’t necessarily pertinent to modern and Eastern wind turbines.

    For instance the Altamont turbines still have those cross-hatched bases which promote raptor staging ON THE TURBINES! Never mind the siting puts the turbines right in the way of the moving raptors (especially the Juv.s which seem particularly susceptible to the turbines).

  4. Criss Rosenlof
    Salt Lake City, UT
    September 20, 2013, 12:05 pm

    Yes, wind turbines are known to kill birds, but they are small numbers when compared to the number of animals killed by the manufacture of fossil fuels and their use. The animals need to learn that it’s not bright to run into them. It’s not the fault of the turbine that the birds hit them, just as it’s not the fault of the building that a bird runs into it. The animals just need to learn to stay away.

    It’s been said that wind energy is a small percent of our energy output in this country, but that’s because of the small amount of wind farms available. The energy output per acre of land on wind verses fossil fuel is much larger for wind, without the pollution.

  5. Borhese Dorn
    September 17, 2013, 1:54 pm

    Curious that they exclude Altamont from the study…

    At this one site alone, thousands of golden eagles have been killed in the past few decades. Fewer have been killed in recent years…is that because there aren’t many left to kill?

  6. Giane Pereira Soares
    Brasil -São Paulo
    September 17, 2013, 11:44 am

    Quando se faz um estudo assim, o título que dá à ele direciona a opinião do leigo, mas não a do pesquisador. Os comentários do David e da Margaret, especificamente, são muito bons. Penso que levantados os dados podemos sair a campo para determinar o desenvolvimento de algum mecanismo que não impeça as águias de permanecerem na região, mas que as faça evitar a área circundante dos parques eólicos. Se caçam roedores terrestres ali, uma boa medida, embora inestética, seria a pavimentação e cerca dos parques. Usar-se os mesmos mecanismos adotados nas cercanias dos aeroportos para evitar a permanência de aves que podem entrar nas turbinas das aeronaves. Prescindir desta energia limpa é que não podemos mais!

  7. bungus
    us
    September 15, 2013, 10:49 pm

    There are problems with everything that we do. The real truth about this is what are the wind turbines replacing. They are replacing fossil fuels which when produced everyday pollute and kill thousands of animals a year. no to mention the devastation done globally. Look up cancer alleys around oil refineries and tell me that it is better than a few birds running into things.

  8. roi'ikka-ta
    united states
    September 13, 2013, 9:31 am

    i guess theyll either have to learn to stay away from them by natural instinct or we’ll have to take them down.. even if so, what about wind farms impact on natural wind patterns if we (humans) start using them on an even larger scale?

  9. David Ward
    Washington, DC
    September 12, 2013, 5:23 pm

    No one takes wildlife impacts more seriously than the wind industry, and while some eagles occasionally collide with turbines at some wind farms this is not a common occurrence, with fatalities of golden eagles at modern wind facilities only representing 2% of all documented sources of human caused fatalities and only a few bald eagles in the history of the industry.

    This figure is far lower than other leading causes, including lead poisoning, poisoning in general, electrocutions, collisions with vehicles, drowning in stock tanks, and illegal shootings, and the only reason we know as much as we do is because unlike these other sources, the wind industry is conducting pre and post-construction surveys and self-reporting the losses.

    The wind industry is actively engaged with both the regulatory and conservation communities to find ways of further avoiding, minimizing and fully mitigating for any impacts to both species.

    To learn more about what the AP Story left out visit, http://www.aweablog.org/blog/post/what-ap-left-out-of-its-latest-story-on-eagles-and-wind-power

    And for more on the facts about eagles & wind energy visit https://www.awea.org/Issues/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=832

    American Wind Energy Association

  10. Margaret Eifert
    Massachusetts
    September 12, 2013, 2:50 pm

    There are over 20,000 Golden Eagles and over 9000 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states per the Department of Interior and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Please try to keep the deaths in perspective. The number killed by the over 50, 000 thousand of wind turbines in the US is about 13 per year.

    No one wants to see these magnificent birds or other birds or any wildlife killed by wind turbines but keep in mind that birds are also killed by collisions with tall buildings, acid rain, power lines, jet planes, and, yes, humans.