how do fossil fuels kill birds

Environmentalists and environmental scientists have criticized wind energy in various forums for its negative impacts on wildlife, especially birds. This article highlights that nuclear power and fossil-fuelled power systems have a host of environmental and wildlife costs as well, particularly for birds. Therefore, as a low-emission, low-pollution energy source, the wider use of wind energy can save wildlife and birds as it displaces these more harmful sources of electricity. The paper provides two examples: one relates to a calculation of avian fatalities across wind electricity, fossil-fueled, and nuclear power systems in the entire United States. It estimates that wind farms are responsible for roughly 0.27 avian fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while nuclear power plants involve 0.6 fatalities per GWh and fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 9.4 fatalities per GWh. Within the uncertainties of the data used, the estimate means that wind farm-related avian fatalities equated to approximately 46,000 birds in the United States in 2009, but nuclear power plants killed about 460,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 24 million. A second example summarizes the wildlife benefits from a 580-MW wind farm at Altamont Pass in California, a facility that some have criticized for its impact on wildlife. The paper lastly highlights other social and environmental benefits to wind farms compared to other sources of electricity and energy.

Advocates of wind energy cherish its multitude of economic and energy security benefits compared to other sources of conventional electricity generation. Engineers and contractors can construct wind turbines more quickly than large-scale nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants (Sovacool and Watts Citation2009). Use of wind turbines means less consumption and pollution of water resources – a real concern since about half of water use in the United States involves producing electricity in thermoelectric plants (US Geological Survey Citation2005). The deployment of wind farms diversifies the fuel mix of utility companies, thereby reducing the overall risk of fuel shortages, fuel cost hikes, and interruptions (Christensen et al. 2006). Wind energy tends to be more widely accepted by communities and can contribute to economic development through greater jobs and enhanced tax revenue than fossil-fueled infrastructures which primarily send money out of the local economy. (Slattery et al. Citation2011, Citation2012).

Wind energy, however, is not free from environmental costs, and it has become common practice for environmental scientists and environmental advocates to criticize wind turbines for their direct and indirect hazards to birds, bats, and natural habitats. Such authors have used the term ‘avian mortality’ to describe the process whereby birds are killed by colliding with wind energy infrastructure. Writing in a prominent biology journal, for example, Carrete et al. (Citation2009) argue that wind farms ‘have adverse effects on wildlife, particularly through collision with turbines’ and that ‘alarming numbers of Egyptian vultures [have been] found dead in the vicinity of wind-farms’. A follow up-study concludes that ‘wind-farms have negative impacts on the environment, mainly through habitat destruction and bird mortality’ (Carrete et al. Citation2012). Cryan and Brown (Citation2007) note that ‘wind turbines are killing bats in many areas of North America’. Dahl et al. (Citation2012) write that despite producing ‘clean’ electricity, ‘wind-farms do have impacts on the environment’. Other recently published articles have documented negative impacts from wind turbines on Griffon vultures in Spain (de Lucas et al. Citation2012), golden eagles in Scotland (Fielding et al. 2006), and ‘sensitive birds’ in the United Kingdom (Bright et al. Citation2008). Some have proposed ‘no-go’ zones for wind farms based on probable flight paths and habitats (Janss et al. Citation2010) and noted that wind farms can threaten non-avian species such as ground squirrels (Rabina et al. Citation2006).

Indeed, biology journals are not alone in drawing attention to the wildlife costs of wind energy. One of my earlier literature reviews of 616 studies on wind energy and avian mortality found that every single one drew a negative connection between wind energy and the natural environment (Sovacool Citation2009). A recent, cursory review undertaken by this author of articles published in the past 5 years in three scientific databases (Science Direct, BioOne, and EBSCO Host Environment Complete) – including prominent journals such as Biological Conservation, Bioscience, Journal of Wildlife Management, Ornithological Science, Wildlife Biology, and Wildlife Society Bulletin – identified 56 articles with ‘wind energy’ or ‘wind turbine’ in their title, abstract, or keywords. Every single one was negative in its treatment of wind energy. A meta-survey of dozens of other studies also concluded that ‘associated infrastructure required to support an array of turbines—such as roads and transmission lines—represents an even larger potential threat to wildlife than the turbines themselves because such infrastructure can result in extensive habitat fragmentation and can provide avenues for invasion by exotic species’ (Kuvlesky et al. Citation2007).

This evidence suggests that a consensus is emerging, or may already exist, within the wildlife community that wind turbines are environmentally calamitous or at least that such wind farms need better methods of construction, siting, and operational performance. This article, however, argues that conventional electricity systems, namely those combusting fossil fuels and fissioning atoms, present their own acute risks to wildlife and birds, risks that are far greater than those from wind energy. Consequently, wind energy brings with it advantages that make it an environmentally friendly source of electricity. Through a synthesis of previously published literature, the article notes that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for approximately 0.27 and 0.6 avian fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 9.4 fatalities per GWh.

To make this argument about the costs of conventional electricity compared to the benefits of wind energy, the article proceeds as follows. It first compares avian fatalities from wind energy with other conventional forms of electricity generation at the national scale of the United States. It then compares avian-related mortality from wind turbines with nonenergy sources such as stationary towers and roads in addition to cats and automobiles and presents the Altamont Pass case study. It lastly summarizes some of the social and environmental benefits from wind energy, presents the study’s caveats, and offers conclusions for those in the environmental sciences and energy policymaking communities.

In making this case, a number of salient limitations deserve mentioning. This study compares wind energy with nuclear power and fossil fuels but not other sources of electricity such as solar panels or hydroelectric dams. Many of the avian deaths from fossil fuels result indirectly from climate change, whereas those from wind energy and nuclear power are more direct from collisions with equipment (wind turbines and nuclear cooling towers) and contamination of land and water (uranium mines and enrichment facilities). The study focuses almost entirely on birds rather than bats and other types of wildlife. These shortcomings do mean that the study should be viewed as a first-order estimate to be (hopefully) reinforced by future research.

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Avian mortality compared to other energy sources

For readers of this Journal, it may come as a surprise that wind farms seem to have fewer bird deaths per GWh than nuclear and fossil fuel-fueled power plants (coal, natural gas, and oil generators). Bird strikes on towers or turbine blades cause fatalities for wind turbines and wind farms. The primary cause of fossil fuel-fueled power plants’ deaths is climate change, which modifies weather patterns and destroys bird habitats. The risk associated with nuclear power plants includes collisions with draft cooling structures and hazardous pollution from uranium mine sites. However, as this section of the paper shows, when combined, fossil fuel-fueled facilities pose a threat to birds approximately 35 times greater per GWh than wind energy, while nuclear power plants pose a twice as great risk. In absolute terms, indicates that, when climate change is taken into account, the number of birds killed by wind turbines in 2009 was approximately 46,000; in contrast, fossil fuel stations caused 24 million deaths, and nuclear power plants 458,000 (See ).

Table 4. Lifecycle equivalent carbon dioxide emissions (grams of CO2/kWh) for selected electricity sources.

Second, additional independent research has confirmed the enormously detrimental externalities associated with fossil fuels like coal. According to a recent study, while wind-turbine generators and biomass plants produced power that cost 7 cents per kWh over the course of their lives, including capital, operating and maintenance costs, and fuel costs, traditional coal-fired technology appeared to produce affordable power –under 5 ¢/kWh. 4 ¢/kWh and 8. 9 ¢/kWh, correspondingly, and tended to need more land. But when analysts included in a variety of externality costs, coal became nearly 17 cents per kWh, whereas power from wind and biomass plants was significantly less expensive (Roth and Ambs Citation 2004). According to another estimate, coal would cost 261 if the costs of electricity were adjusted to account for the harm that coal, oil, and natural gas combustion causes to the environment and human health. 8% more than it does (Norland and Ninassi Citation1998). According to Kammen and Pacca’s (Citation 2004) research, the annual cost of operation for conventional coal power plants in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington was 50 ¢/kWh, nearly eight times higher than the average 6 5 ¢/kWh paid by consumers at the time.

Particularly impacted by many of the negative externalities from conventional energy systems are ecosystems and wildlife. One recent study, for example, compared the risks that various power sources—such as wind energy and natural gas-fired plants—pose to vertebrate wildlife in a qualitative manner for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (EBF 2009). Following a thorough analysis of the scientific literature, the study outlined the hazards associated with each of the six lifecycle stages for each power source. It then assigned a “relative level of risk” to vertebrate wildlife, which ranges from the lowest potential to the highest potential (see and Compared to natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear, and hydroelectricity, wind energy has the least potential to negatively impact vertebrate wildlife when considering each stage of the lifecycle.

Numerous other studies have confirmed EBF’s assessment that wind energy has a variety of environmental benefits, such as fewer energy accidents, fewer noxious pollutants involved in manufacturing, and fewer resource extractions that benefit different types of wildlife, or the opposite, that fossil-fueled facilities cause significant environmental harm (Ingelfinger and Anderson Citation2004; Naugle et al. Citation2006; Sawyer et al. Citation2006; US Fish and Wildlife Service 2009; Pirie et al. Citation2005; Russell Citation Citation2009; Meng and Zhang Citation2002; Sovacool Citation2008b).

This article has shown that wind energy is far less harmful to wildlife than nuclear power and fossil fuels, regardless of whether fatalities per unit of energy delivered or absolute bird fatalities are being considered. The wildlife benefits of the 580-MW Altamont Pass wind farm are significant. In summary, estimates show that in 2009, wind farms in the United States were responsible for about 46,000 bird deaths, while nuclear power plants killed about 458,000 and fossil fuel-fueled power plants almost 24 million. additionally demonstrates how few birds are actually killed by wind energy compared to other factors like windows and cats. The world’s coal mines, uranium tail ponds, oil refineries, natural gas facilities, uranium acidified forests, polluted lakes, and habitats soon to be threatened by climate change all contribute to the death and injury of wildlife, but wind turbines, no matter where they are located, prevent this from happening.

Figure 2. Annual number of bird fatalities in the US from energy and non-energy sources, 2009 Note: Only data for the lowest end of a range of estimates is shown in the figure when one has been provided.

However, it’s important to note a few cautions when examining the estimates supplied by More thorough research is required that considers the intricacies of the fuel cycles for nuclear, fossil fuel, and wind energy and contrasts these three electricity sources with other options, such as energy efficiency. The assessment presented here has several flaws, including focusing on bird deaths rather than bird births, treating all birds as “the same” rather than taking species diversity into account, a potentially small sample size for wind, coal, and nuclear facilities, focusing on specific species like waterfowl or wood thrush to produce overall estimates of avian mortality that are definitely not representative (and very likely conservative), and assuming that coal was only mined using mountain top removal, which omits the effects of other types of coal mining. Additionally, fatalities that occur on specific days and weeks were assumed to be the only ones occurring throughout the year, which also leads to conservative estimates, and the assumption that only carbon dioxide emissions

Stated differently, lumping estimates from various species, places, and times does not account for spatial variations pertaining to migratory corridors or temporal variations related to migration patterns. It would be practical and expedient to conduct a study with a larger sample size that concentrated on a greater number of species across more locations, including migration routes and other significant areas, over a longer period of time, and covering the entire portion of the fuel cycle for various electricity systems. Furthermore, these results do not justify the killing of birds by wind turbines, the careless placement of wind farms, or the cessation of research into better designs that lessen the harm that wind energy causes to wildlife and its habitat. Even though there are less deaths per gigawatt-hour of wind energy than from other sources, wind turbines nevertheless have negative externalities and are not entirely benign.

However, it’s crucial to put the problem of bird deaths in a larger context so that environmentalists, wildlife advocates, and even legislators can comprehend the full costs and benefits of producing electricity. Wind turbines are a component of an electric utility system and compete with a range of energy-efficient and distributed generation options, nuclear reactors, natural gas turbines, and coal-fired power plants. Wind turbines are not an isolated entity. It is (at best) insufficient and (at worst) misleading to consider the costs of wind turbines in terms of animal deaths and other social and environmental consequences but not their benefits, nor to take into account the costs of nuclear and fossil fuel alternatives.

The University of California, San Diego’s Donald McCubbin is acknowledged by the author for his insightful editing recommendations. The author is also appreciative to Altamont Winds, Inc. , and Idaho Winds, Inc. , for supporting the research conducted here. However, despite their assistance, the author’s opinions alone are reflected in all conclusions and statements in this article.

1. Despite Erickson’s claim to be using “standardized fatality monitoring data,” Willis and colleagues cite the possibility that the number of birds killed by these six wind farms could be zero when scavenger and efficiency losses are taken into account. 653 per GWh. But I don’t utilize the Willis et al. numbers because scavenger and efficiency losses are not taken into account when calculating the associated bird deaths for nuclear power and fossil fuels. I wanted to compare the three energy sources consistently, seeing things as “apples to apples.”

2. There are approximately 14 million wood thrushes in the United States, indicating a mean population decline of 3. 5% amounts to 490,000 deaths per year. The combustion of fossil fuels for electricity is roughly one-third to one-fourth of the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which are the two main precursors to acid rain. This means that it is indirectly accountable for between 122,500 and 161,700 wood thrush deaths. Taking the mean, 142,100, and dividing it by the 2. With 87 million GWh of coal, oil, and gas produced in 2006, there was zero fatality rate. 05 GWh.

3. The National Audubon Society has placed more than 6. 7 million gulls, ducks, hawks, terns, and albatrosses are among the threatened species on the United States government’s Watch List. Even though these figures represent a very small portion of the total population, a mean population decline of 6% is associated with 402,000 mercury-related deaths. Approximately 2040 percent of the nation’s mercury emissions come from fossil fuel-fueled power plants. By taking 2040% of 402,000, one gets 20160,800, and dividing it by the 2022 87 million GWh produced by fossil fuel-fired power plants yields nothing. 06 deaths per GWh.

4. There are approximately 100 billion to 1 trillion individual wild birds worldwide (a mean estimate of 500 billion birds), belonging to more than 9800 species. The United States of America is estimated to have between 2010 and 2012 percent of this total, or roughly 2.505 billion birds, within its borders during the summer. Calculating the average of bird deaths caused by climate change as predicted by Thomas et al. (26%), one gets 14. For the United States, 3 billion bird deaths occurred over 38 years, or 376 million dead birds annually on average. 7% of these deaths are attributed to fossil fuel-fueled power plants, which account for 339 % of carbon dioxide emissions from these countries (US emissions account for approximately 2018% of global emissions), one gets 3 million birds for 2. 87 million GWh per year or 9. 16 deaths per GWh. This estimate is extremely imprecise; for further information, refer to the “Limitations” section.

5. Taking the extra cost associated with scrubbed coal (19. 79 cents per kWh in 2010 dollars), multiplied by the amount of energy generated by coal in 2009 (1756 billion kWh), equals $347 5 billion in damages. For oil generators, the number is $6. 9 billion (17. 97 ¢/kWh and 38,937 million kWh). For natural gas power plants, the number is $61. 5 billion (6. 68 ¢/kWh and 921 billion kWh).

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How does nuclear energy kill birds?

The threat to avian wildlife from nuclear power plants can be divided into upstream and downstream fatalities. Upstream, uranium milling and mining can poison and kill hundreds of birds per facility per year.

How many birds are killed by oil and gas?

Each year over 500,000 birds die worldwide due to oil spills. The recent BP oil rig disaster or the coast of Louisiana is a major ecological disaster, and the effects have been devastating. Louisiana is the southernmost point on the Mississippi River Flyway.

What causes most bird deaths?

In addition, millions of birds are directly killed by human-caused sources such as collisions with man-made structures such as windows and communication towers. Human-caused mortality impacts are exacerbated by the landscape alterations resulting from a changing climate.

What kills birds in the wild?

Any significant concentration of chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other common lawn and garden additives, can be dangerous to birds. Even if the chemicals are not a direct threat, they may destroy plants or insects birds use as food.