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Originally published June 8 2011

Wind turbines decimating populations of golden eagles

by Tara Green

(NaturalNews) Sixty-seven golden eagles are killed each year by the turbines at the California Bay Area's Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. This average number of annual golden eagle deaths due from blunt force trauma from collision with turbine blades exceeds the number of new eagles born each year.

Field biologist Doug Bell, who manages the East Bay Regional Park Districts' wildlife program, observes that "It would take 167 pairs of local nesting golden eagles to produce enough young to compensate for their mortality rate related to wind energy production. We only have 60 pairs."

One of the nation's highest density populations of golden eagles makes its home in the same grassy canyons which since the 1980s have been the site of nearly five thousand 200-foot wind turbines. The eagles' style of flight makes it difficult for them to navigate the shifting obstacle course of rotating turbine blades, especially while the birds are tracking prey.

The damage done to flying wildlife populations by wind farms is not restricted to golden eagles or to California. The California condor, recently back from near-extinction after an extensive (and expensive) conservation program to save the species, is also potentially at risk. Nationally, as many as 440,000 birds die each year because of injury from wind turbines.

Bats account for several thousand more turbine-related fatalities each year. In the case of bats, the danger is not simply collision with the turbine blades. The shifting pressure in the vicinity of turbines can cause bats' balloon-like lungs to over-expand. Since bat populations are already declining due to white-nose syndrome, and since they play a vital role in ecosystems both as pollinators and as consumers of crop-harming pests, further decimation of their numbers could have serious consequences for agricultural economy.

Researchers are still investigating the connections between migratory periods and mating times and higher incidences of wind-farm wildlife fatalities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked wind farm owners to turn their machines off during times of high migration.

Some conservationists suggest locating future turbines in areas less frequented by protected species. Given the current push to develop more wind farms, this has led to conflicts, in California and elsewhere, about where to locate new wind farms. There is much work still to be done in finding the balance between the quest for renewable energy and maintaining wildlife populations.

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