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As the number of wind turbines in the United States grows, researchers are looking for ways to keep birds healthy

Scientists argue that data from citizen science should be used to help determine where wind turbines should be installed.

In the United States, wind energy is on the rise. According to the US Energy Information Administration, turbines produced around 8% of the country’s electricity in 2020, which is more than 80 times the share of wind-generated electricity in 2000. Scientists warn that while the increase is a good move toward combating climate change, it could be bad news for birds.
Turbine accidents kill an estimated 140,000 to 500,000 birds per year.

If the US Department of Energy meets its target of increasing wind energy to 20% of the country’s electricity demand by 2030, bird deaths could rise to 1.4 million per year.
Some scientists are calling for the use of citizen science and bird migration data while determining where to build wind turbines to avoid unnecessary deaths. The wind energy industry could use this data to get a more complete image than conventional surveys can give, while also reducing the risk of harm to birds and other wildlife.
Citizen science has already shown its ability to address critical knowledge gaps. More than 180,000 birders contributed observations about bald eagles to the eBird database between 2007 and 2018.

If the US Department of Energy meets its target of increasing wind energy to 20% of the country’s electricity demand by 2030, bird deaths could rise to 1.4 million per year.
Some scientists are calling for the use of citizen science and bird migration data while determining where to build wind turbines to avoid unnecessary deaths. The wind energy industry could use this data to get a more complete image than conventional surveys can give, while also reducing the risk of harm to birds and other wildlife.
Citizen science has already shown its ability to address critical knowledge gaps. More than 180,000 birders contributed observations about bald eagles to the eBird database between 2007 and 2018.

“What we’re able to do is really harness strength that only citizen science has,” says Ruiz-Gutierrez, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has suggested that the team’s bald eagle maps be used to locate low-risk collision areas appropriate for wind turbine construction.
Turbines can also affect animals indirectly by changing their environments. Consider whooping cranes (Grus americana). Every year, the endangered birds migrate from coastal Texas to Canada and back — a nearly 8,000-kilometer round trip — traveling over a handful of U.S. states that generate the majority of the country’s wind energy. Researchers studied GPS position data from 57 cranes monitored from 2010 to 2016 to gain a better understanding of how wind energy infrastructure affects birds.

Cranes avoided resting near wind turbines along the road, according to a study published March 7 in Ecological Applications by wildlife biologist Aaron Pearse of the US Geological Survey and colleagues. According to Pearse, who is based in Jamestown, N.D., the birds are “less likely to use stopover sites if a wind structure, or group of wind structures, is within around five kilometers.” By early 2020, this would have resulted in a net loss of 5% of the birds’ habitat.
However, the team discovered that the number of turbines in the whooping crane migration corridor more than tripled from 2,215 to 7,622 during the study period.

According to Pearse, if this pattern persists, continued habitat loss may lead to population decline. One of the reasons whooping cranes are vulnerable in the first place is because of this.
Migration monitoring data, including citizen science data, provides a better image of bird activity across the year, according to Ruiz-Gutierrez. These new types of data could aid wind energy developers in ensuring the safety of birds — and their homes.

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