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An Update on Birds and Wind Farms

Wind turbines represent a threat to wild birds. This is an issue that we have looked into before and one which is making headlines in many countries across the world. The need for sustainable energy is driving an increase in the number of wind farms being established but these developments often prove to be controversial.

Conflicts of Interest

Conservationists are keen to highlight the plight of the many birds which are killed by the turbines every year whilst those seeking to control climate change argue that we need more turbines. There have been several protracted debates about the locations of wind farms. Those championing the turbines seem to repeatedly end up butting heads with those seeking to protect birds. There have even been arguments over how many birds have been killed.

Scientists Work to Save the Birds

Just when it looked as if there would be no resolution to the ongoing conflict of interests, a light has appeared on the horizon in the shape of what has been dubbed an acoustic lighthouse. Researchers at the College of William & Mary have been busy designing and building an innovative device that alerts birds which are in danger of crashing into a wind turbine. Now that is a good idea!

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, biologist John Swaddle promoted the idea of the acoustic lighthouses which are designed to make birds look up before it’s too late.

Birds Fly with their Eyes Down

Avian species which have eyes on the sides of their heads, look down and to the side when horizontal. When they are flying, their eyes are focussed on the ground and this helps them to navigate. Evolution has seen to it that birds can navigate without the risk of hitting things as they would be flying too high to hit a tree. But then humans invented skyscrapers and wind turbines!

The unsuspecting birds which fly into wind turbines die instantly. Unfortunately, bird activity, especially during migration, is often concentrated in the areas where wind farms are built.

Warning Wild Birds to Slow Down

The new acoustic lighthouse generates a high-pitched sound which causes birds to slow down. When they do this, they point their tail feathers down and that causes their body to move to an upright position, enabling them to look ahead. The birds will then change course in order to avoid the obstacle. Even if a bird doesn’t quite stop in time, the fact that they have changed position could save them from a brain injury. The devices can be utilised to save birds from hitting wind turbines, skyscrapers and communication masts.

Testing the Theory

The new technology has been tested on zebra finches which were flown down a long corridor towards a net. Some birds looked up in time to miss the net whilst others slowed down considerably. An acoustic lighthouse would not save every bird but could make a big difference. The sound it makes would not be audible at ground level.

Maybe the acoustic lighthouse will resolve much of the conflict surrounding wind power. We might actually arrive at a situation where the needs of the human population are not in conflict with the safety of birds. You never know your luck!


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