Birds and Wind Development

Wind farm by Joshua Winchell, FWS

Wind Power: It's not smart unless it's bird-smart


Wind development by Joshua Winchell FWS


The Challenge

Wind power has the potential to be a green, bird-friendly form of power generation, but it can also adversely affect birds. In 2009, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated that 440,000 birds per year were killed by U.S. wind turbines and included this figure in the agency’s 2013 budget request to Congress. But in 2012, the agency changed how it describes the estimate and now says it maintains no official number. More recently, researcher K. Shawn Smallwood, well-known for his work at Altamont Pass, has estimated 573,000 bird fatalities/year (including 83,000 raptor fatalities) from wind turbines in the United States in 2012.


Birds can die in collisions with the turbine blades, towers, power lines, or related structures. They can also be impacted through habitat destruction from the siting of turbines, power lines, and access roads. Some birds, such as sage-grouse, are particularly sensitive to the presence of turbines and can be scared away from their breeding grounds up to several miles away from a wind development.


ABC Conservation Framework

The collisions element of this program fits into the category Eliminating Threats within ABC's conservation Framework. Habitat ramifications of wind farms fit under Conserving Habitats.
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Primary Birds Impacted

Potentially all night-migrating songbirds are at risk of colliding with wind turbines, as are raptors and waterbirds when wind farms are sited in areas they frequent, particularly wildlife refuges, migratory corridors, and breeding areas.



ABC has asked the Department of the Interior to keep strong rules to protect eagles at wind farms. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued well-crafted eagle take permit regulations, but the wind industry has sought to weaken them. ABC is working with conservation partners to maintain the current regulations.

ABC has developed a wind development risk map that has the potential to dramatically reduce impacts to birds from poorly sited wind turbines. The map highlights more than 2,000 locations in the United States where birds are likely to be particularly vulnerable to impacts from wind energy development. It identifies both concentrated migratory flight paths and key habitat locations.

ABC is working with its conservation partners to oppose the worst-sited wind projects in the United States -- those that will clearly have the strongest negative impacts on birds.

ABC Results

ABC Results Button

ABC formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect millions of birds from the negative impacts of wind energy. We asked FWS to develop regulations that would safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development. The petition was prepared by ABC and the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal. Although FWS rejected the petition on the same day it published the voluntary wind guidelines, 90 groups support the petition and its mandatory approach. ABC is not giving up, and at the right time will try again for a mandatory approach.

ABC Results Button

ABC fights for the public’s right to know what happens to birds at wind farms. In June 2013, we sued the Department of the Interior for violating the Freedom of Information Act, and we hope to obtain bird mortality records we have been waiting more than two years to receive. After our first Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in June 2012, the Department of Interior admitted fault and we obtained nearly 1,400 documents about wind farms in 10 states.

ABC Results Button

Seventy-five conservation and wildlife protection groups joined with ABC to ask FWS to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, instead of a more cursory Environmental Assessment, for a wind project that is particularly bad for birds: the Merricourt Wind Power Project in North Dakota. FWS is considering giving the project an Incidental Take Permit that would allow the project to legally kill endangered Whooping Cranes and threatened Piping Plovers. There are fewer than 400 Whooping Cranes left in the wild.

ABC Results Button

Seventy-two conservation and wildlife protection groups joined with ABC to ask the Department of the Interior to delay revising the duration of eagle take permits from five years to 30 years, until the new Secretary of the Interior could participate in the decision. Secretary Jewell was confirmed in 2013 and the revised rule was subsequently adopted.

ABC Results Button

Thanks to the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation, ABC has launched the Bird-smart Wind Program to address threats to birds and their habitats from wind farms and to bring about real policy change to benefit birds.

ABC Results Button

More than 60 conservation groups, scientific societies, and businesses have endorsed the principles of Bird-Smart Wind Power.

ABC Results Button ABC and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology brought all the scientists working on the issue together for the first time to exchange information and ideas at a major national conference.


What Next?

What Next Button

The federal government needs to develop mandatory regulations, not voluntary guidelines, that protect birds at all wind energy developments.

What Next Button

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act should be enforced by the federal government at wind farms. This will bring an end to the double standard of prosecuting other energy sectors, such as oil and gas, for killing birds – while giving the wind industry a free pass.

Take Action


Tell Washington to REJECT Weakening Protections for Eagles!


Golden Eagle by Jason Hickey

The federal government wants to gut an important rule that protects eagles, which will result in more of these iconic birds being killed at wind energy projects throughout the United States.

Will you tell Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to say "NO" to 30-year eagle take permits?