Painting Wind Turbine Blades Black Helps Birds Avoid Deadly Collisions
September 11, 2023 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Painting Wind Turbine Blades Black Helps Birds Avoid Deadly Collisions. A recent study found the simple intervention reduced bird mortality by 72 percent.

"Dousing just one of a wind turbine’s three blades in black paint dramatically reduced the number of birds the turbines killed in a multi-year study conducted in Norway, report Heather Richards and David Ferris for E&E News.

The study, published last month in the journal Ecology & Evolution, found that the turbines with one black blade killed 71.9 percent fewer birds than standard turbines on the same wind farm in the Norwegian archipelago of Smøla.

Jonathan M. Gitlin of Ars Technica reports that though wind turbines are an important part of many plans to generate renewable energy, some research has shown they can pose a danger to flying wildlife like birds and bats. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that roughly 300,000 birds were killed by wind turbines in 2015. Another study estimated wind power killed some half a million birds and more than 800,000 bats died in collisions with wind turbines each year.

Writing for BBC’s Future Planet, Brianne Hogan points out that these figures remain far lower than the total killed by powerlines in the U.S., which a 2014 paper estimated may be between 12 and 64 million. House cats, meanwhile, exterminate an estimated 1.3 to 4 billion birds annually."
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (9 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
"One cannot expect this solution to reduce fatalities of most other bird species because many causal factors contribute to avian collision mortality with wind turbines," Shawn Smallwood, a California ecologist who has studied bird deaths caused by energy infrastructure, tells E&E News. "Many birds, for example, collide with wind turbines at night, when tower colors are irrelevant."
Five watts of colour-shifting LEDs incorporated into the leading edge of each blade might help with that while making only a negligible contribution to light pollution.
posted by flabdablet at 11:16 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]

Add a little bit of programmableness to the LEDs and you can apply a persistence of vision effect to sell advertising on the wind turbines
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:11 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]

Five watts of colour-shifting LEDs incorporated into the leading edge of each blade might help

I suppose it might, but parts of blades can be doing well over 100 mph so not so easy to get out of the way. It's like being out for a stroll and suddenly finding yourself on the autobahn.
posted by biffa at 3:34 AM on September 12

72% wow!

But then if you actually read the article, it says, they had 6 birds killed by four turbines with a painted blade over a three year period, versus 18 killed at a control group of 4 nearby unpainted turbines. So really, we are talking about ONE LESS BIRD per turbine per year in the test. Or a reduction from 1.5 birds per turbine per year to half a bird per year.

BUT, before any of the painting, the site's 68 turbines killed 500 birds over a 10 year period, which is about three-quarters of a bird per turbine per year. So in fact, the painted blades brought about a decrease of only a quarter of a bird per year versus the long-term average, while those 4 unpainted turbines in the control group happened, during the 3-year test period, to kill twice as many birds as the long-term average.

Perhaps a Metastatistician can check my work, but this does not feel significant to me. Let them paint all the blades on all 68 turbines and see what happens over the next 10 years.
posted by beagle at 9:40 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]

IIRC the big metastudy a while back said typical bird deaths were 1.8-2 birds per turbine per year, so they may be relating it to that.
posted by biffa at 11:22 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]

For context Chicago Bird Collision Monitors pick up hundreds of stunned or dead birds who have collided with building every day during migration. They say that around a billion birds are killed by building collisions each year.

While it is great that they are trying to minimize bird deaths from windmills they are one of the least grave threats to birds that there is yet it receives disproportionate press thanks to the anti-renewable energy coalition looking for anything and everything to stop energy de-carbonization.

About halfway down this report from US fish and wildlife there is a list of mortality causes with estimates. You can see just how small the proportion of man-caused mortality windmill death is. Now those are total bird population numbers and some threats may be mostly to specific species like the way that motor vehicles are particularly deadly to birds of prey that hover hunt over fields which could make windmills more concerning but I still think these concerns are extremely marginal compared to much larger issues like light pollution, glass buildings, pesticide use and habitat degradation and the absolutely massive threat of global climate change.
posted by srboisvert at 4:04 PM on September 12 [8 favorites]

All: 3,324,184,012
All (excluding cats): 924,184,012

Keep them indoors, folks.

Collision - Land-based Wind Turbines: 234,012
Collision - Building Glass: 599,000,000

I'd be interested to learn if there's a correlation between the height of a building and the number of birds it kills per window.
posted by flabdablet at 10:33 PM on September 12

Srboisvert, it is true that cats kill way more birds than wind turbines, but that's not the end of the story. Certain species of birds are much more likely to be killed by wind turbines than housecats, including many large raptors, some of which are threatened or endangered. I think the benefits of wind energy are generally enough to outweigh the downsides, but the fear of turbines killing birds isn't baseless.

posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 7:38 PM on September 13

Here's an interesting study from the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, with a key paragraph highlighted.

Nature is often perceived as a barrier to the acceleration of offshore wind, however many of the challenges are rooted in planning systems developed when this was an emerging technology. We cannot afford planning systems that pitch offshore wind against nature; instead, the UK Government, working cooperatively with the devolved country governments in the UK, must use the opportunity presented by the British Energy Security Strategy and Energy Security Bill to streamline and accelerate deployment and protect biodiversity.

The RSPB position has changed over decades to a more nuanced position than 'Ban Wind Turbines' to one which also considers the need to protect birds (and everything else) from ongoing climate change, with the potential to destroy habitats and cause large-scale disruption to bird reproductive and life cycles. They still object to some wind farms on local impact grounds, but they have also made efforts to consider the wider picture.
posted by biffa at 7:19 AM on September 21

« Older Honey, Honey, How You Thrill Me   |   B is for Bomb Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments