Climate

Wind Power and Birds

Properly sited wind power can help protect birds from climate change.

Audubon strongly supports wind energy that is sited and operated properly to avoid, minimize, and mitigate effectively for the impacts on birds, other wildlife, and the places they need now and in the future. To that end, we support the development of wind energy to achieve 100% clean electricity.

Wind power is an important source of renewable, carbon-free energy that is critical to replacing and reducing emissions from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas that cause warming of our planet.

All forms of energy—including wind power—have impacts on birds. Audubon’s role is to make sure that key species and high conservation areas for birds are protected as much as possible and in accordance with federal law. We engage in advocacy on federal, state, and local energy planning processes, and on individual utility-scale projects. Audubon also weighs in on federal permitting policies for species protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Why does Audubon support properly sited wind power?

Top scientific experts from around the world, including Audubon's own scientists, agree that the effects of climate change are happening now and will get worse if warming is not limited to 1.5 degrees C. Expansion of renewable and carbon-free energy is an essential piece of meeting this goal, and wind power is currently one of the most economically competitive forms of renewable energy. Beyond the climate impacts, wind power also avoids air pollution caused by fossil fuel combustion that disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color.

Annual electricity generation from wind energy increased 50-fold from 2000 to 2019, but wind power only made up about 7% of large-scale electricity generation in 2019. This means that the U.S. will have to dramatically ramp up deployment of wind energy technology, but some of the most obvious and easily accessible places for installation have already been taken. As a result, finding places to site wind energy that minimizes risk to birds will become increasingly difficult. Because the benefit of wind energy is so great for the most at-risk birds and people, it is important that Audubon engage in the siting process and support well-sited projects to help get them across the finish line.

What risk does wind energy pose to birds?

While wind energy helps birds on a global scale by curbing climate change, wind power facilities can harm birds through direct collisions with turbines and other structures, including power lines. Wind power facilities can also degrade or destroy habitat, cause disturbance and displacement, and disrupt important ecological links. Placing wind projects in the path of migratory routes makes this problem worse, especially for larger turbine blades that may reach up into the average flight zone of birds that migrate at night. An estimated 140,000 to 500,000 bird deaths occur per year due to turbine collisions, which is substantial, but significantly less than deaths caused by outdoor cats and building collisions.

Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes that it will not be without some impact; however, harmful effects to birds and other wildlife can be avoided or significantly reduced in the following ways:

  • Federal, state or local planning for wind energy in “low impact” areas where permitting can be more efficient
  • Proper siting and operation of wind farms and equipment through federal and state guidelines
  • Development of new technologies that help minimize harm to birds and other wildlife
  • Mitigation of habitat and wildlife impacts through conservation measures;
  • Strong enforcement of existing laws that protect wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
  • Encouragement of wind developers and permitting agencies to consult with wildlife experts, including Audubon staff and chapters, to help inform study and siting decisions and to support efforts to improve wind siting and technological solutions to reduce harm to birds.

How does Audubon engage in this issue?

Audubon has approached advocacy around the siting and operation of wind turbines in a number of ways:

  • Through national staff, state offices, and local chapters, Audubon is actively engaged with wind developers and operators to review and react to plans for wind projects, especially those that impact protected species or important habitat, or would be precedent-setting. Audubon uses our unique grassroots network and cutting-edge mapping technology to visualize potential impacts and advocate for beneficial siting of wind power.
  • Audubon has testified in Congress about the effects of wind turbines on birds and bats.
  • Audubon has helped develop guidelines for the wind industry to help minimize harm to birds and other wildlife and participates in the American Wind and Wildlife Institute.
  • Audubon collaborates with wildlife agencies and partners at the federal, state, and local level.
  • Audubon is a forceful advocate for enforcement of existing protective laws, which ensure that guidelines are effective. We have stood in strong opposition to a 2013 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule that offered 30-year permits for wind farms to kill and injure Bald and Golden Eagles. A federal judge later overturned this rule, and USFWS dropped its appeal in 2016. We also are opposed to any interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that would remove penalties for incidental take, including from collisions with wind power or associated infrastructure.
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