Testimony of Donald Michael Fry, PhD
Director, Pesticides and Birds Program
American Bird Conservancy
May 1, 2007
Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
Chairman Bordallo, Ranking Member Brown, and distinguished
members of the Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee,
I would first like to thank you for inviting me to testify
on behalf of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) on
the effects of wind turbine energy projects on birds
in the United States.
My name is Dr. Michael Fry, and I am the Director of
the Pesticides and Birds Program at American Bird Conservancy,.
In addition to being responsible for science and federal
policy issues concerning pesticides, my job includes
federal policy and science issues related to the effects
of wind projects on mortality and habitat impacts to
My qualifications include a PhD in Animal Physiology
from the University of California, Davis, and 30 years
experience in avian ecology and toxicology at the University
of California and at American Bird Conservancy. I am
a member of the Wildlife Workgroup of the National Wind
Coordinating Committee, funded by the US Department
of Energy I serve on the Minerals Management Service,
Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Studies Program,
Science Advisory Committee, and am Chair of the Subcommittee
on Alternative and Renewable Energy.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit
organization, whose mission is to conserve wild birds
and their habitats throughout the Americas. It is the
only U.S.-based, group dedicated solely to overcoming
the greatest threats facing birds in the Western Hemisphere.
In brief, ABC has been an active participant in national
symposia on wind power, birds and wildlife for the past
ten years and believes that with proper siting, operation,
and monitoring, wind energy can provide clean, renewable
energy for America's future with minimal impacts to
birds and bats. ABC has developed a policy statement
on wind energy and birds available on our website at:
Unfortunately, to date, collaborative efforts
to successfully address the impacts of wind projects
on birds and wildlife have been a failure.
As members of this subcommittee may know, the Department
of Energy formed a consensus-based collaborative in
1994, the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC),
which is comprised of representatives from the utility,
wind industry, environmental, consumer, regulatory,
power marketer, agricultural, tribal, economic development,
and state and federal government sectors. The purpose
of the collaborative was “to support the development
of an environmentally, economically, and politically
sustainable commercial market for wind power”.
The NWCC has been an active forum for discussion of
environmental issues, and subcommittees of the NWCC
have developed several fact sheets and methods and metrics
documents in an effort to identify risks to wildlife
from wind projects, and to recommend actions that could
be taken by industry to prevent, reduce, or mitigate
collision mortality and habitat destruction arising
from the construction and operation of wind projects
within the US.
My experience with NWCC, however, has been that there
has been much discussion and almost no real action on
the part of the wind industry to resolve bird collision
issues at wind project areas.
The wind energy industry has been constructing and
operating wind projects for almost 25 years with little
state and federal oversight. They have rejected as either
too costly or unproven techniques recommended by NWCC
to reduce bird deaths. The wind industry ignores the
expertise of state energy staff and the knowledgeable
advice of Fish and Wildlife Service employees on ways
to reduce or avoid bird and wildlife impacts.
Federal and state oversight for wind energy
projects has been virtually nonexistent.
Federal participation in regulation and enforcement
of wind energy has been particularly conspicuous in
its absence. At Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, more
than a thousand Golden Eagles have been killed, and
enforcement officials have archived carcasses for decades.
Not a single prosecution for take of eagles has
been brought by federal officials, and no adequate explanation
has ever been provided to explain why the Bald and Golden
Eagle Protection Act has been ignored for so long.
The Fish and Wildlife Service developed an interim
series of voluntary siting guidelines in 2003, and revised
them after a prolonged comment period in 2005. Federal
guidelines must be required rather than voluntary.
The wind industry has provided ample evidence that voluntary
guidelines are regarded as unimportant and are thus
The State of California has worked diligently to document
habitat issues and bird kills. They have recommended
studies to evaluate techniques to prevent or minimize
the killing of birds of prey at several wind resource
areas in California. Permits for development and operation
continue to be issued by California and its counties.
They have done so after being promised by wind developers
that the wind industry would take all measures “feasible”
to prevent or minimize bird injuries and deaths. However,
without any meaningful regulatory oversight or enforcement,
the industry has exhibited very little change in its
behavior over the past 25 years. Technology has advanced
substantially, and promises have been made that newer
technologies would reduce bird deaths, but very little
evidence has been provided by industry to substantiate
In fact, when independent researchers finally gained
access to the Altamont Pass area, under contract from
the California Energy Commission, the results of their
research and documentation were viscously attacked by
staff from the California Wind Energy Association. Every
effort was made to discredit the research and personally
discredit the researchers. The NWCC website provides
an excellent bibliographic resource to much of this
information, and documents and links are available at:
The State of Maryland has recently exempted wind projects
from meaningful environmental review. Maryland has eliminated
the requirement for a Certificate of Public Convenience
and Necessity (CPCN) before construction of a wind farm.
The law eliminates the ability of stakeholders other
than the wind developer to have input into the process.
The law now: 1) Exempts wind energy developers from
obtaining a Certificate of Public Convenience and necessity
(CPCN) from the Public Service Commission. The developer
only needs a construction permit.; 2) Blocks the public
from having meaningful participation in the decision
process for wind energy projects; and 3) Prevents public
and expert testimony at Public Service Commission hearings
for wind energy projects proposed on state-owned lands
and offshore, in waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
In summary, there has been a great deal of discussion
and very little action on the part of industry and the
federal government to resolve bird and wildlife issues.
Bird populations at greatest risk include
birds of prey and grassland songbirds.
The bird species at risk at individual wind projects
vary greatly, as habitats with good wind resource are
highly variable across the US. In general, the two bird
species groups at greatest risk are birds of prey, (both
hawks and eagles that hunt during the day, and owls,
which are nocturnal, and hunt at night) and grassland
birds, species groups living in the Great Plains and
in flat or rolling hill country in the Pacific Northwest,
California, and Texas.
The bird species that have been documented to have
the greatest risks from collision mortality are:
Collision Mortality Risk:
Birds of Prey:
Especially in California and the Pacific Northwest
Great Horned Owls
Grassland ground birds and songbirds:
Especially in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains
“Generalist” species, found in many places:
Sparrows and finches
More than 50 species of other migratory songbirds
Especially in the Great Basin and the Great Plains and
Birds of prey have long been recognized as the most
vulnerable group of birds to suffer direct mortality
from collisions with rotor blades of wind turbines.
It appears that resident birds are killed in the greatest
numbers, that is, those birds that live in the area
of the wind project and are apparently killed while
hunting. This has been a particularly difficult problem
in California at Altamont Pass and also at the Montezuma
Hills wind area in Solano County. The risk to resident
birds of prey appears directly related to the population
density of birds of prey in the area. To date, very
few well documented mitigation attempts have been tried
to reduce the kills of birds of prey at existing wind
There have been early planning efforts at one major
wind project: Foote Creek Rim, Wyoming, where careful
location of wind turbines to avoid raptor flight patters
has resulted in minimizing collision mortality of birds
of prey. This type of effort should be undertaken at
every wind project, early in the planning stages, prior
to leasing land or siting turbines.
Grassland bird species are also at risk of both collision
mortality and habitat loss. Horned Larks are a small
songbird species that has been disproportionately killed
at windfarms in the Great Basin and Great Plains, apparently
because of courtship behaviors that involve aerial display
flights that take the birds into the path of turning
rotors. Other ground dwelling songbirds and grouse are
not at as high risk from collision mortality, but may
be at very high risk of disturbance and displacement
from wind projects, because of their apparent aversion
to tall structures. Active research sponsored by the
NWCC and funded by others is ongoing, in an effort to
identify the displacement risks to grassland species.
Habitat loss in Puerto Rico and tretas to the
endangered Puerto Rican Nightjar:
The Puerto Rican Nightjar is a critically endangered
insect eating “Whip-poor-will” like species,
with a total population estimated at less than 1700
individuals. They live in tropical dry forests at only
a few locations in Puerto Rico, and have been listed
as Endangered by the FWS since 1973. In 2006, the FWS
granted an incidental take permit to destroy approximately
46 nesting territories in prime habitat in Guayanilla,
Puerto Rico, to allow the construction of a major wind
project (WindMar) in an area described as “marginal”
wind resource by the Department of Energy. It is completely
inexplicable why the FWS would grant such a permit to
allow destruction of an endangered species for development
of a wind farm at a marginal resource, with a very inadequate
habitat conservation plan under the ESA. This is a prime
example of the lack of regulatory oversight provided
by the FWS to protect wildlife at wind projects.
A Proposal for Meaningful Federal Participation
to solve wildlife problems:
While I know that it is not the Natural Resources Committee’s
jurisdiction, there is a bill in the Ways and Means
Committee to renew the production tax credit for wind
energy, HR 197. ABC recommends that any renewal of the
production tax credit include provisions that require
meaningful research into ways of minimizing bird and
bat kills by wind projects, and require developers follow
standard Best Management Practices (BMPs) in avoiding
and minimizing bird and wildlife impacts.
Below several important research topics that have not
been adequately addressed since their discovery shortly
after operation of the wind projects at Altamont Pass
began 25 years ago. When answers to these questions
are available, they should be incorporated into the
BMPs, and enforced by the appropriate authorities. The
logical federal agency to have authority over promulgation
and enforcement of BMPs. would be the FWS.
Require efforts to reduce habitat loss during construction
and operation of wind projects.
Require adequate studies prior to siting wind projects
to avoid important and sensitive bird areas.
Require modifications to locations or operation of
turbines that kill a disproportionate number of birds.
Require real-time radar to be installed at wind projects
that are located in regions with high numbers of migratory
birds, and require project shut-downs when flocks
of birds at risk from collisions are detected approaching
the wind project.
Critical research needs to be done in the following
Identification of important bird areas.
These areas should be off-limits to wind development
unless adequate preventative measures can be discovered
to minimize incidental take of protected bird species.
Better analysis of direct mortality.
The methods used to evaluate collision mortality in
operating wind farms are controversial and uncertain
in their conclusions. Birds and bats killed by wind
turbines are searched for by field teams at infrequent
intervals, and the methods to extrapolate to the true
number of birds or bats killed still remain controversial.
For example, it is unknown whether small birds struck
by a turbine blade moving with a speed of greater than
150 mph remain intact, or whether they disintegrate
into a “poof” of feathers and small fragments.
It is unknown how far carcasses of small birds that
do remain intact can be catapulted by a turbine blade
that is 130 feet long traveling at 150 mph. It is unknown
how frequently and quickly scavengers remove carcasses
of dead or injured birds, so that monitoring personnel
(when present) do not observe the mortality. The formulas
and algorithms used to estimate scavenging rates remain
controversial and the environmental community remains
skeptical of the accuracy of mortality estimates.
Do turbines on ridge tops significantly affect
The “typical” modern turbine is a 1.5 MW,
3 blade monopole turbine with a hub height 55-80 m (180-260
ft.) above ground level, and turbine blade length of
35-40 m (115-130 ft.). The rotor typically spins at
12-20 rpm, and the rotor tip travels at 150-180 mph.
The height of the rotor, the speed of the blades, and
the speed of the wind are all factors in where a bird
carcass might land after being struck by a blade.
Recent published scientific reports indicate that greater
than 10% of nocturnal migrating songbirds migrating
over ridges fly at elevations putting them within the
area of rotating turbines (Mabee at al. 2006, WILDLIFE
SOCIETY BULLETIN 34(3):682–690). It is not known
whether these birds are at risk of being struck by turbines
blades, whether they can adequately avoid them, and
whether inclement weather might increase the collision
risk, as it does with communications towers.
What locations in the US are unsuitable for wind projects.
This would be based on the presence of vulnerable bird
and bat species.
What areas of the US are significant migratory
corridors or broad regions with huge numbers of migratory
birds, both songbirds and raptors?
The Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana are known to
be critical passage areas for billionsof protected migratory
bird species. Weather radar has been employed to evaluate
the numbers of birds migrating along the Texas coast,
and flocks of millions of birds are routinely observed
in spring and fall. Texas, however, does not even involve
its Department of Parks and Wildlife in the permitting
process, which is carried out by the Texas General Land
Office. I believe this is totally unacceptable.
Can real-time radar and short-term turbine
shutdowns successfully prevent mortalities of migrating
birds without economic hardship to wind projects and
without harmful interruptions to the electric grid?
Real-time radar is currently operational in Spain to
prevent collision mortality to migrating birds of prey.
This or similar technologies need to be developed in
this country, in spite of the frequently heard statement
that such measures are too costly, and that financers
of projects will not stand for the economic loss from
temporary or seasonal shutdowns. The World Bank is requiring
such technologies to be developed at wind projects in
Mexico to prevent mortalities to migrating hawks that
funnel through the Oaxaca region in very large numbers.
Can automated technologies be developed that
detect bird strikes to turbine blades?
If acoustic, photographic or other sensitive automatic
detectors could be developed within rotor blades or
turbine hubs to monitor bird strikes, the uncertainty
and expense of carcass searches and repetitious monitoring
of wind farms could be eliminated, and better information
on problem turbines would be generated. The costs of
incorporating sensitive detectors into rotor blades
or hubs would be very small compared to the overall
costs, and cost reductions from reduced monitoring and
analysis would be significant.
How will bird strikes be evaluated at offshore
Which bird species (ex Brown Pelicans and Gannets)
are at risk from offshore wind projects?
Will offshore wind projects exclude wintering
migratory sea ducks and other birds from traditional
The last three questions deal primarily with offshore
wind projects, and need to be addressed to the Minerals
Management Service Environmental Studies Program, as
they gear up for environmental studies in conjunction
with leasing offshore areas for wind projects.
All of these unanswered questions have been posed to
the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the Department
of Energy and to the Minerals Management Service. At
the current time there is no adequate budget to answer
these or other questions, but wind projects are going
forward at an increasing rate without answers to these
questions, and without adequate involvement of the Fish
and Wildlife Service for development of enforceable
guidelines for preventing or minimizing bird kills and
Biological Significance of wind turbine mortality.
While the actual number of birds killed by wind turbines
is unknown, estimates have been made in the range of
30,000 to 60,000 per year at the current level of wind
development. The wind industry is prepared to increase
the number of turbines 30 fold over the next 20 years,
in order to fulfill the President’s request that
renewable energy projects supply 20% of the nation’s
energy needs by 2030.
At the current estimated mortality rate, the wind industry
will be killing 900,000 to 1.8 million birds per year.
While this number is a relatively small percentage of
the total number of birds estimated to live in North
America many of the bird species being killed are already
declining for other reasons, and losses of more than
a million birds per year would exacerbate these unexplained
declines. Data from the FWS Migratory Bird Management
and Breeding Bird Survey by the US Geological Service
indicate that at least 223 species of our native bird
species are in significant decline (about 1/4 of all
species in US). The mortality at wind farms is significant,
because many of the species most impacted are already
in decline, and all sources of mortality contribute
to the continuing decline.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to present
my testimony today Chairman Bordallo.