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How Do Wind Turbines Affect Wildlife? (Environmental Frenemies)

How Do Wind Turbines Affect Wildlife? (Environmental Frenemies)

When I was studying the current growth rates of the wind energy industry, I wondered how all of these new wind turbines were affecting the wildlife around them. So, I did some reading to find out if turbines leave any adverse effects on the animals that also live in the area. 

How do wind turbines affect wildlife? Wind turbines have been reported to have accounted for millions of bird and bat deaths since they were created. There have also been multiple reports of negative effects on other forms of wildlife, however, these claims were never supported by any scientific evidence. 

Although wind turbines have provided a substantial benefit to the environment since they were first implemented, there is a negative side to the growth of wind energy. Despite the reduction of air pollution and lowered risk of global warming that comes with the use of wind energy, turbines have been harming animals all over the world for several years. 

Related: Sucking The Life Out Of Bats (Are Wind Turbines To Blame?) 

How Wind Turbines Have Affected Nearby Farm Animals

Ever since wind turbines have been introduced across the world as a method of using a clean and renewable source of energy, there have been rumors of the machines causing harm to nearby animals. These claims include all kinds of wildlife, from farm animals, domestic pets, and livestock to other various flying species that inhabit the areas where wind turbines are commonly installed. 

Although there is no scientific proof of wind turbines letting out any harmful emissions into the atmosphere as fossil fuels do, multiple farmers have taken on the belief that wind turbines produce sounds and infrasound rays that travel over to the local animals and cause changes in the ways they behave.

There have been reports of livestock animals refusing to eat or taking up eating habits and patterns that were not normal before the wind turbines were present in the environment.

They have also been believed to alter the animals’ reproductive systems, with large percentages of miscarriages in horses and cows as well as stillbirths and a high rate of deaths among newly born animals. In one specific case where horses on a farm were affected by a newly constructed adjacent wind farm, it was observed by the farmer that the mothers were not able to effectively feed their babies.

Extremely high numbers of animal deaths have occurred within the time frame of wind turbines being installed, in patterns that did not exist prior to the machines constantly running in the horizon. 

There was one particular well-known case of a goat farm located in Taiwan several years ago. A new wind farm had just been built directly across from the field where the goats spent most of their time. The farmer reported that he lost over 400 of his animals at once immediately following the appearance of the new wind turbines that were extremely close to the goats.

His shocking retelling of events revealed that the hundreds of goats that were killed all dropped to the ground almost simultaneously. The number of deaths among his field of goats was something that he had never seen before, at least not all at one time. So what could have caused all of these goats to just fall over and die?

Could it have been a coincidence that the turbines happened to be built there right around the same time these goats were going to die of other causes?

Other very similar reports of different species of animals experiencing miscarriages, stillbirths, and deaths after wind farms have appeared in the area have surfaced over recent years. Dr. Nina Pierpont of John Hopkins Medical wrote a book about this epidemic called Wind Turbine Syndrome.

The book basically summarizes the events of multiple farmers that have reported the negative effects their animals have experienced that they believe to have been caused by the new wind turbine machines. The book specifically explains certain cases that Pierpont came across over her years of research, including one in which several chickens had laid eggs with no shells around them at all. 

Overall, the animals that lived on farms nearby any type of wind turbine or wind farm that wasn’t there before began to exhibit very strange patterns of behavior. These altered patterns included their sleeping, eating, and reproductive schedules.

The farmers that watched over these animals had absolutely no other theory or explanation for why their animals could possibly be acting so strangely all of a sudden. Since there had been no changes in their food, environment, or anything of that sort, the only thing left to blame would be the giant machines spinning around with the wind and making noises.

Although there has been no official scientific research that has directly proven a connection between wind turbines and the harm or death of nearby animals, this has been a widespread issue almost since the beginning of wind energy. 

The Death Toll of Flying Animals Caused by Wind Turbines

Although it has not been scientifically proven that wind turbines cause harm to farm animals and other wildlife, there have been numerous studies that have provided evidence that wind turbines do, in fact, cause a lot of yearly deaths of flying animals that come in contact with them.

One of the most popular rumors that have surrounded wind turbines for years is that they kill birds. This statement is true and has been brought to light in recent studies, but there are a lot more bat deaths each year that are caused by wind turbines than those of birds. 

In 2014, there was a study that looked further into the number of bird deaths that had been caused by wind turbines in the previous year. The study was called State of the Birds and set out to prove the popular position against wind turbines due to the harm they inflict on innocent birds yearly.

The scientists that completed this research took the time to study local birds and watch their patterns as they interacted with nearby wind turbines. The results of the research ended with a conclusive number of the average amount of birds that are killed by wind turbines annually. This number came out to approximately 300,000.

Although this is a very large number of unnecessary bird deaths that are knowingly caused by wind turbines, it is not as big of a number when you compare it to the total bird deaths each year among all other causes. It is much more common for birds to die closer to the more populated areas due to a variety of accidents that can happen on a daily basis.

For example, over one hundred million birds are killed every year by flying at rapid speeds into the city and smacking into the windows of large buildings. Since the windows on most buildings are nearly transparent, it can be difficult for the birds to differentiate between the air space and the beginning of the building, and by the time they realize it the impact of running into the glass in mid-air kills them instantly.

Even further, over 3 million birds are killed every year by the common house cat. That’s 3 million birds killed by small friendly cats in comparison to the slim 300 thousand that are killed by wind turbines in rural areas. Even though there is no reason for wind turbines to be killing off this many birds per year, it would be safe to say that house cats account for more yearly deaths of birds than wind turbines do. 

Another well-known study that was performed in regards to the relationship between birds and wind turbines that was published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution Journal, scientist Maria Thaker studied a specific species of predatory raptors in a mountain region of India.

The objective of the study was to insert a series of wind turbines into an ecosystem that was previously undisturbed by modern machinery and observe how the animals that inhabited that area would react to the new and unfamiliar structures.

The wind turbines would soon begin to naturally react to the wind speeds that were directed at them and spin their blades accordingly. 

As the study progressed, the scientists noticed that the entire species of raptors had become nearly extinct in the area. In fact, they were approximately 4 times rarer in that area than they were in any other location in the region.

Although most people may be quick to assume that the blades of the turbines took the raptors out just as they do with regular birds, this did not occur in this particular area at all. In fact, the spinning blades of the wind turbines seemed to intimidate the raptors more than anything. Since they had been installed, it created a disturbance in the previously thriving ecosystem.

The Raptors, which were the top predators in the environment at the time, took notice of the rapidly spinning blades and regarded them as competition. Since the blades were significantly larger and louder than the Raptors, they surrendered to the turbines and vacated the area completely, giving up their spots at the top of the food chain. 

Even though the wind turbines did shake up the ecosystem they were placed in, they luckily did not cause physical harm to a single animal in that area during the time of the study. In fact, they were actually found to be helpful to some of the smaller animals in the area.

More specifically, the species of lizards that were previously hunted by the large raptors showed signs of relief when their predators had completely disappeared. The scientists took notice of the lizard’s levels of stress hormones, which had been significantly lower after the wind turbines had made their appearances and scared the raptors away. 

However, wind turbines did not have such a generous effect on bats in the Appalachian Mountain region. A previous study had tracked the patterns of a certain species of bat in this region that would likely come in contact with the local wind turbines.

When their flying patterns were followed by scientists, it was proven that the majority of bat deaths came directly from these specific turbines. When the bats would fly too close to the turbines’ spinning blades, the increased pressure in the air caused by the wind’s turbulence around the rotating motion would be too much for their lungs to handle.

The effect of the bats flying in this area was their entire bodies exploding from the inside in mid-air. The results of this study provide further evidence to back the claim that a large percentage of bat deaths across the entire world occur at the hands, or blades, of wind turbines. 

Changes That Can Be Made To Lessen the Yearly Deaths of Animals From Wind Turbine Encounters

The effects that wind turbines have on wildlife is a subject that is not as frequently discussed as it should be, even though scientific research has proven it to be a very serious problem among certain ecosystems scattered around the world.

One of the main suggested reasons for multiple deaths of flying animals across the entire world is the defaulted white paint color that covers almost every wind turbine in existence. The color white was strategically chosen for wind turbines in particular due to the aesthetic properties and protective functions that the bright color can offer.

However, this simple choice of paint color can be one of the reasons that are making wind turns so detrimental to multiple species of wildlife. 

Since white is a bright and reflective color, the turbines often light up when the sun is out, attracting tons of bugs that will land on certain areas of the machines or from large groups as close to the reflection of the sunlight as they can get.

As a result, predators that will hunt and eat the bugs are often attracted to the area as well, including various species of birds and bats that reside in that specific area. The flying animals will sometimes fly through the blades and get killed or injured, or suffer a collapse due to the high pressure in the air that surrounds them.

Similarly, some birds and bats choose to nest themselves around the turbines whether it is on the towers or near the top of the structure, which puts them more at risk for injury when the turbines begin to turn their rotor blades. 

It has been shown that insects are less inclined to be lured toward wind turbines if they are painted a more dark and subtle color like purple. There was actually a study that took place where multiple colored cards were placed in a row and light was reflected onto them with a certain amount of bugs in the controlled environment. The results of the research showed that the bugs did, in fact, have the least amount of interest in the purple card. 

Additional theories have been proposed by multiple scientists over the years in order to protect bats in specific since they suffer so much from wind turbine deaths. It has been theorized that if wind turbines are simply shut off during the prime migrating and mating seasons of bats, there will be significantly fewer injuries and deaths to the species per year.

These seasons tend to be around the fall time, where there is much less wind anyways, so this change would not affect the production of wind energy as much as most people might think. However, there has been no official action toward making these changes in recent years despite the relevant issues. 

In conclusion, even though wind turbines have fixed a lot of problems on the earth, they have caused their fair share of them as well. It seems as if there are more reports of animals getting hurt or dying as the time goes on and more turbines are added throughout various regions. 

Related Questions

What are the Benefits of Using Wind Energy in Comparison to Other Sources of Electricity?

Wind energy has many benefits in comparison to alternate methods of electricity. First of all, it is a natural and renewable source that will never run out nor create any kind of pollution or physical damage to the atmosphere or environment itself. Additionally, it is much more cost effective than almost any other type of energy that exists in the world. 

How Has the Use of Wind Energy Improved the Environment in Recent Years?

Since wind energy has become popular and wind turbines have been installed all over the world, there has been a significant decrease in air pollution and the advancement of global warming. 

Will Wind Energy Always be a Sustainable Resource for Electricity?

Wind energy will always be a sustainable resource for electricity because it is one of the earth’s infinite resources that will never run out in any circumstance. Even at times where the wind is unpredictable or scarce, there is new technology that allows people to store excess wind energy for a later date when the demand is high but supply is low. 

Learn More

If you’re serious about learning more about wind energy, I recommend the Wind Energy Handbook on Amazon. This book is great for both students and professionals, and it holds invaluable information on the subject of wind power.