For the Birds

Birds may not be as endangered by wind power quite as much as previously thought, reports a recent study in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

In Europe, wind farms are springing up everywhere. By 2020, the European Wind Energy Association estimates, up to 14 percent of the continent's power will come from wind turbines, and big power companies like GE are pouring millions into wind power.

But what of the assertion that wind turbines kill birds?

Scientists at Newcastle University conducted surveys of four main bird groups on European farms: corvids, gamebirds, seed-eaters and European skylarks. The only bird they found to be disturbed--even by large concentrations of wind turbines--was the common pheasant.

"This is the first evidence suggesting that the present and future locations of large numbers of wind turbines on European farmland is unlikely to have detrimental effects on farmland birds," one of the lead scientists said in a statement to Reuters.

These findings are good news, the report says, for policy makers, energy companies, and the people who rely on that energy. But there is a catch: This is only the first of what should be many extensive studies, and it was performed during the winter. I'm not enough of a bird expert to assess what the impacts of wind turbines on breeding populations would be; more studies should follow.

This may not mean salvation for every bird--or for the newly beleaguered bat. Nor should it mean that energy companies have carte blanche in deciding where to put turbines. But it's a hopeful sign for renewable energy--and for recognizing the importance of examining ecological systems that could be at risk. Let's hope that responsible energy development isn't as quixotic as its chasing windmills.

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