The main argument against wind turbines by environmentalists is that the spinning blades kill birds. When I heard this, I was skeptical.
Digging through the Intertubes, I found that it’s true. Each large, commercial wind turbine in the United States kills an average of about two birds per year. This varies a lot based on where the wind farm is. Some are right in bird migration paths, and some aren’t. But the average is about two per year per turbine. In 2001 there were 3,500 operational wind turbines in the U.S., for a grand total of 6,400 birds killed.
Sounds like a lot, I suppose. But I wanted to know how many birds died from other manmade causes. Here are those numbers (based on the most common annual estimates I found):
The granddaddy of human-caused bird population decline is habitat destruction. Numbers are not available, but it’s said to dwarf the causes listed above.
But even that pales in comparison to natural bird deaths. About one third of all birds die in collisions with natural objects, like rocks, trees, or the ground. Most of these are young birds learning to fly.
However, simply that more birds are killed by other causes doesn’t justify the incremental increase imposed by wind turbines. The entire argument is a non-sequitur, technically speaking. But it’s not completely irrelevant, in that it does put the issue into proper perspective.
It doesn’t even address the ongoing death toll to birds from particulate air pollution caused by coal and oil burning power plants, which is what we’re left with when alternative energy sources are taken off the table for “environmental” reasons. I couldn’t find a number for this, but I’ll wager it’s at least as much as it is for humans. As many 100,000 people die each year, in the United States alone, from particulate air pollution from coal and oil burning power plants. I don’t know how many are killed by the environmental effects of wind turbines, but I think it’s safe to say the number is lower.
Sagrillo, Mick. “Putting Wind Power’s Effect on Birds into Perspective.” Wind Energy Technical Info, 2003. Web. Jan 6, 2010. <http://www.awea.org/faq/sagrillo/swbirds.html>
Curry & Kelinger. “What Kills Birds?” Curry & Kerlinger, LLC. Web. Jan 6, 2010. <http://www.currykerlinger.com/birds.htm>
Erickson, W., et. al. “Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States.” National Wind Coordinating Committee. Aug 2001. Web. Jan 6, 2010. <http://www.west-inc.com/reports/avian_collisions.pdf>
ACS News Center. “Air Pollution Linked to Deaths From Lung Cancer.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 6 Mar. 2002. Web. 21 Dec. 2009. <http://www.cancer.org/docroot/NWS/content/NWS_1_1x_Air_Pollution_Linked_to_Deaths_From_Lung_Cancer.asp>