Declining bird populations shouldn’t face added threat of wind turbines in sensitive areas

Posted 21 October 2022 at 2:22 pm


I have been an amateur birdwatcher my entire adult life. I have birded extensively in western New York and have volunteered for various agencies and non-profits including the US Fish and Wildlife at Iroquois NWR, the DEC at Oak Orchard and Tonawanda WMA, Buffalo Ornithological Society and Buffalo Audubon Society.

The loss of bird life is widely noticeable in western New York. While I support renewable energy and reduction of greenhouse gasses, I am opposed to the Borrego wind turbines that are proposed for our township directly 4 miles north of Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

While renewable energy development that reduces warming of the atmosphere is critically important to our move away from fossil fuels, unfortunately it is known that wind energy development has a substantial negative impact on birds. The American Bird Conservancy has averaged the results from a trio of studies done in 2012-2014, the latest data published, and arrived at the number 366,000 birds killed by wind turbines in the US in 2012.

American Bird Conservancy looked at data from the US Wind Turbine Database and wrote that in 2021 there were 65,548 wind turbines, a 47% increase in the industry, and by projection estimates that there are 538,000 wind-turbine caused bird deaths in the US each year.

ABC then projected mortality based on energy produced by turbines, since that accounts for the size of the turbines as well as their numbers. This increases the bird mortality to 681,000 birds currently killed by wind turbines in the US each year.

A recent study of bird death detections also shows that searching with dogs detected up to 2.7 times the number of small dead songbirds than were detected by humans. This would translate into 1.17 million birds killed by wind turbines in the US each year.

If new turbines are located far from existing power grids and require constructing new powerlines, the indirect effect of those powerlines are another source of bird mortality incurred when turbines are installed.

Wind energy companies conduct their own mortality studies but are under no obligation to share this data with the public, which would provide a clearer picture of the cost to our birds. We should be asking our representatives to require this information be made public so that conservation efforts could be enhanced to mitigate the loss of bird life.

Regardless of mortality numbers, birds are already facing many threats, and should not have to also be threatened by wind turbines. In the publication Science, September 2019, we learned of the alarming warning that the US and Canada have lost 3 billion breeding birds since 1970, a loss of 1 in 4 birds. Even worse, State of the just published their 2022 appraisal of the steep population losses in virtually all habitats. They identify 70 tipping point species that “have lost half or more of their breeding population since 1970 and are on track to lose another half or more in the next 50 years.”

Of those 70 tipping point species, fourteen have been seen and utilize Iroquois NWR, directly south of Medina. They are American Golden Plover, Bobolink, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Chimney Swift, Evening Grosbeak, Golden-winged Warbler, King Rail, Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone and Pectoral Sandpiper, one-fifth of the species at a tipping point.

Mid-Atlantic Flyway species’ migratory pathways are shown on the website, moving through the range of the proposed 633-foot-tall turbines proposed for Shelby. We know that birds have traveled incredible distances to rest and refuel at Iroquois NWR each spring and fall, before continuing to either their northerly breeding sites in the boreal forests of Canada or the Arctic wetlands or on their return trip to wintering grounds in central and South America.

There is no dispute that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but without adequate study of the costs to wildlife or consideration for using the least disruptive renewable method to the natural world, actions like rushed installation of wind turbines in sensitive areas becomes our own loss. Birds belong to all of us. Their loss has much larger ramifications to the ecosystem.

Therefore, I ask that residents of Orleans and Genesee counties voice their opinions and reject the proposed Borrego wind turbine installation between South Gravel Road and Salt Works Road.

Respectfully submitted,

Celeste Morien