Do wind turbines kill birds?

With U.S. dependency on foreign oil getting uncomfortably close to crisis levels, any viable alternative energy source is looking pretty good. With environmental damage from coal and gas-derived power already at crisis levels, even alternatives that are decades off are looking pretty great. Wind power, a viable energy source that costs far less than nuclear and coal power and contributes almost no pollutants to the environment, seems to many of us to be almost ideal.

But there are some people who disagree and are fighting the installation of new wind turbines in the United States. They cite bird mortality as an unacceptable side effect of wind energy. Through lawsuits and protests against pending legislation, they hope to save huge numbers of birds from death at the blades of massive wind turbines.

To most experts, though, there’s a problem with the bird-mortality argument: The vast majority of research shows that wind turbines kill relatively few birds, at least compared with other man-made structures. The statistics are shocking if you consider just how many people are crying out against wind power for the birds’ sake:

Man-made structure/technology. Associated bird deaths per year (U.S.).

Feral and domestic cats: Hundreds of millions [source: AWEA]

Power lines: 130 million — 174 million [source: AWEA]

Windows (residential and commercial): 100 million — 1 billion [source: TreeHugger]

Pesticides: 70 million [source: AWEA]

Automobiles: 60 million — 80 million [source: AWEA]

Lighted communication towers: 40 million — 50 million [source: AWEA]

Wind turbines: 10,000 — 40,000 [source: ABC]

Collisions with wind turbines account for about one-tenth of a percent of all "unnatural" bird deaths in the United States each year. And of all bird deaths, 30 percent are due to natural causes, like baby birds falling from nests [source: AWEA]. So why the widespread misconception that labels wind turbines "bird-o-matics"? I­t all starts with California, raptors and the thousands of old wind turbines that make up the Altamont Pass wind farm.

­In this article, we’ll find out where the statistics went wrong, how thousands of birds do end up flying into wind turbines each year and what’s being done to reduce the number of bird-turbine collisions.

By Julia Layton,