Wind Power Affects Nonmigratory Birds, Too

By Laura Erickson
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse and other prairie grouse that gather on leks appear to be vulnerable to wind turbines. Photo by Laura Erickson.

Wind turbines can sometimes have negative effects on non-migratory birds. In some spots they can kill them outright, as researchers learned at Altamont Pass in California. One study reported that far more raptors were killed at turbines mounted on horizontal-lattice towers than all other tower-types combined; apparently hawks are attracted to lattices as perches and don’t notice the blades. Tower design may help resolve this and some other issues related to mortality at turbines.

Wind turbines may sometimes reduce breeding success and displace birds, but data establishing significant trends are weak.

A 2004 U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service report recommends maintaining a 5-mile buffer between turbines and prairie-grouse breeding leks. Greater and Lesser prairie-chickens, Gunnison and Greater sage-grouse, and Sharp-tailed Grouse evolved without vertical structures in their environments. The report states that visual disruption, noise, fragmentation, human disturbance, and increased predator access near turbines justify this buffer zone. A 2009 paper in Conservation Biology found that the declining Lesser Prairie-Chicken avoids tall structures, which apparently serve as barriers to movement.

Originally published in the October 2009 issue of BirdScope.

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