Wind Power Kills Fewer Birds than Your Pet Cat
Wind farms are a bit like the Jekyll and Hyde of renewable energy. On the one hand, they produce clean power with no carbon emissions or pollution once they are installed. On the other hand, wind turbines are death traps for migrating and predatory birds. The blades of turbines easily strike and kill passing birds that cannot detect them, and some wind installations are built right in the path of migration routes. Older windmills have open grid bases that serve as ideal perches and nesting areas for birds. Needless to say, that is a recipe for disaster.
The result of poorly designed and poorly sited wind farms is an estimated 300,000 bird deaths per year. Large raptors such as bald eagles, condors, hawks, owls, and vultures, are the most vulnerable. Many of these birds are threatened and endangered species, which is the main argument used to protest wind farms. In terms of volume, however, 300,000 dead birds is a pittance compared to the murderous rampage of the common cat.
There is scientific evidence confirming that cats are jerks. They probably don’t even like us all that much. (Clearly, I’m a dog person.) Even more disturbing is evidence proving that cats are much deadlier hunters than we previously thought, and birds are a popular menu item.
Cats in the United States kill up to an estimated 3 billion birds a year. They are constantly violating laws protecting threatened and endangered animals, and they just don’t seem to care. The American Bird Conservancy even explains that cats are already credited with the extinction of 33 animal species worldwide. Bad Kitty.
Feral and domestic cats kill an astronomical number of birds compared to the amount windmills wipe out, so does that mean we should shift our avian anger towards them instead?
Just because cats are a problem for many ecosystems does not dwarf the issue of birds killed by wind turbines. This is because cats and windmills usually affect different species, with cats killing smaller, more common birds. Although cats will try to kill pretty much anything at all, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see one take on a 25-pound condor. Still, the argument that bird deaths due to windmills are negligible because of cats (and yes, there are many) is misguided. Both cat predation and windmill design need to be managed to protect the environment and its birds. After all, birds serve a vital function in all ecosystems, whether they are top predators or the little guys that eat seeds and disperse them for new vegetation growth.
We need more wind power anyway.
Thankfully, the wind industry is working to mitigate the potential harm turbines inflict on wildlife by developing more eco-friendly designs that protect birds (and bats too). For wind power to be a truly environmentally-friendly energy source, it needs to be bird-friendly, but at the rate windmill technology is progressing, turbines will probably be practically cruelty-free soon. Cats, on the other hand, will never be cruelty-free.
While it does concern me that wind farms harm endangered bird species, the importance of wind as a source of clean electricity cannot be overstated. Since wind farms provide us with clean energy, they should still be employed more often and protested less because there is much more at stake than bird mortality.
Honestly, climate change might be the only factor that could negate the effect of wind turbines on bird populations. After all, entire species of birds and all other living things are at risk of extinction due to carbon emissions, pollution, and volatile climate. If wind power will help us transition away from fossil fuels and slow climate change, then the benefit simply outweighs the risk.
We will develop wind power that is safe for birds and efficient for humans, and once that is accomplished wind power should be free of controversy. Maybe then we should have an important conversation with our cats about leaving our feathered friends alone.
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