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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
BIRD DEATHS IN CONTEXT
A primary question that arises from considerations of current and projected cumulative bird deaths from wind turbines is whether and to what degree they are ecologically significant. A related (but nonetheless different) question is how the number of turbine-caused bird deaths compares with the number of all anthropogenically caused bird deaths in the United States. The committee approaches the answer to the latter question with great hesitation, for four reasons. First, the accuracy and precision of data available to answer the question are poor. Although it is clear that more birds are killed by other human activities than by wind turbines, both natural mortality rates for many species and fatalities resulting from many types of human activities are poorly documented. In addition, different sources of human-caused fatalities do not affect all bird species to the same degree. Second, the demographic consequences of various mortality rates are poorly understood for most bird species, as are factors such as the timing of fatalities and sex or age bias in fatalities resulting from different anthropogenic causes, which could have a variety of demographic impacts. Moreover, the demographic and ecological importance of any given mortality rate being considered is relative to population size, which is poorly known for most species. Third, grouping all species together in any estimate provides information that is not ecologically relevant. For example, the ecological consequences and conservation implications of the deaths of 10,000 starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are far different from those of the deaths of 10,000 bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Finally, consideration of aggregate bird fatalities across the United States from any cause—including those caused by wind-energy installations—is not the appropriate spatial scale to address the question of interest. Region-specific information about the demographic effects of any cause of mortality on species of interest would be much more informative. Thus, for example, it is more important to know how many raptors of a particular species are killed by turbines and other human mortality sources in a particular region than it is to know how many raptors are killed nationwide.
Having said the above, we provide here estimates summarized by Erickson et al. (2005) and estimates reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS 2002a). Those sources emphasize the uncertainty in the estimates, but the numbers are so large that they are not obscured even by the uncertainty. Collisions with buildings kill 97 to 976 million birds annually; collisions with high-tension lines kill at least 130 million birds, perhaps more than 1 billion; collisions with communications towers kill between 4 and 5 million based on “conservative estimates,” but could be as high as 50 million; cars may kill 80 million birds per year; and collisions with wind turbines killed an estimated 20,000 to 37,000 birds per year in