Being known as the “bird man” or “bird guy” has been an interesting journey. I get lots of questions and recently a bunch of people have been asking me about the Neosho Ridge wind project and if it will kill birds.
The short answer is yes, it will kill a measurable amount of birds. “How many?” is usually the next question and is a tougher question to answer. It is first important to find credible studies done on the matter. Bias and agenda-driven studies litter the landscape. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the huge amount of data collected by wind farm developers and operators is considered “proprietary” and not available for public consumption. Apex Clean Energy in the case of Neosho Ridge has not been willing to make its preconstruction bird point count data available for public analysis. In my opinion, the credible studies put the number of birds killed per year in the range of 10-300 birds per turbine. Multiply those numbers by an estimated 140 wind turbines and you get a range 1,400 to 42,000 birds killed per year throughout the wind farm. So what number is the exact mortality from that range? Hard to say, but I want to error on the high side with my estimates.
But this doesn’t tell the full story. The number only represents direct bird collisions with the tower or blades. What about on a macro level? Does the overall population of birds in and near a large-scale wind farm decrease? Few studies have addressed this concern. One study claims that half of all bird collision deaths are from local resident birds. Resident means the birds that live year-round and breed in direct relationship to the landscape around the turbine.
A northern cardinal would be a great example of this type of bird. So let’s assume a mid-range estimate from above of 20,000 collision kills per year, that means 10,000 resident birds would be killed each year. That is 10,000 birds that aren’t available to sustain their population locally. The towers themselves actually displace birds, one recent study suggested that 7 out of 9 grassland bird species were displaced by the presence of wind turbines with the bulk of that persisting through the five-year mark at the conclusion of the survey.
The eastern meadowlark is a great example of a grassland species. What this means is that a percentage of the local birds left the immediate area of the turbines. Does this extrapolate across all resident bird species? Not enough information is available to know. Logic says it would at some level depending upon the species. Apex has said that migrating birds tend to avoid wind farms, either flying around them or over them. Some migratory birds include ducks, geese, winter sparrows and specific species like hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles, mallards and dickcissels. These are all types of birds that would visit ponds, trees and feeders of homes in and around the footprint. Do these farms cause these birds to pass over or around the properties in and near the footprint, skipping our ponds, feeders and private wetlands? Are there 5 percent fewer, 30 percent, 50 percent? No study known to me has tackled this issue. One final piece to the story is the fact that the Neosho Ridge wind project will be installing wind turbines that are 550 feet to 600 feet tall, some of the largest in the state. The bulk of all bird collision data is generated off of turbines in the 400-foot range. Studies suggest that there is an increase in mortality as the turbine height increases; something unaccounted for in the numbers above as they relate to Neosho Ridge and would theoretically make the death toll higher.
So do macro-level population declines occur across wind farms? In my opinion people in and around the wind farm will see an overall decrease in bird numbers from day to day. Birds will still be seen, but there will be fewer. This is an area that needs significantly more study.
A local university and other groups like Ducks Unlimited are willing to partner on a long-term study of the wind farm’s effects on birds, assuming it is built, but as of now Apex is not interested in having an independent study conducted.
What about bald eagles? Wind farms kill bald eagles. Again, how many is a point of contention. Wind farm companies will claim they are few and far between, maybe one every two or three years in the Midwest, while other sources say the number could be 10 times that high. Again the same issues persist with getting documented reliable data. Bald eagles are a relatively common sight in Neosho County. I have personally confirmed three active bald eagle nests in the county with more likely undiscovered or undocumented by me. At least one of these is within a mile or two of the project footprint, well within forage range of the nearest proposed turbine. A significant number of bald eagles do winter in the Southeast Kansas area and specifically in Neosho County. This November to April is when most folks will see bald eagles. I have personally documented several times 20-plus bald eagles in and around Lake Parsons during the winter. These birds require a large forage area, an area that would include the proposed Neosho Ridge wind farm.
The whole of Neosho County has been documented as one of the most bird species rich counties in the state. Please study the situation and wind farm proposal, look for non-bias information and know the consequences of what is about to be done.
As for bats, don’t get me started on bats. Wind farms kill four times as many bats as birds. – ANDREW BURNETT, Erie
Sources: Estimates of bird collision mortality at wind facilities in the contiguous U.S. Loss, Will & Marra 2013; “Impacts of Wind Energy Facilities on Wildlife and Wildlife Habitat,” The Wildlife Society 2007; “Wind Turbine Interactions with Wildlife and Their Habitats,” American Wind Wildlife Institute 2015
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