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Bird near a wind farm

Bird near a wind farm (milehightraveler, iStockphoto)

STEM in Context

How do Wind Farms Affect Birds and Bats?

Chantelle Lafleur & Let's Talk Science

Summary

Wind energy generates a lot of electricity in Canada. But wind turbines can be dangerous for wildlife.

Many countries around the world use wind energy to generate electricity. Canada is one of them. In 2018, wind energy in Canada generated enough electricity to power 3.3 million homes

Wind energy is a renewable energy resource. Renewable resources do not run out. Energy from the Sun and from moving water are renewable, too.

Wind energy can be transformed into mechanical energy. Mechanical energy can generate electricity. Usually, electricity from wind is generated by wind turbines. The video below explains how a wind turbine works.

Wind Power 101 (2014) by Student Energy (1:46 min.).

Did you know?

Wind turbines do not pollute the air when operating. But some sources of energy do pollute the air. Two examples are coal and natural gas power plants. Can you think of any other examples?

Have you ever seen a wind farm? A wind farm is several wind turbines grouped together. It is an example of a wind energy project. Unfortunately, these projects can cause problems for local wildlife.

How do wind turbines affect wildlife? 

Many birds and bats die because of wind turbines. For example, birds often crash into the wind turbines. Some bats die this way, too. 

Other bats die from barotrauma. Barotrauma happens when a change in air pressure damages body tissues. When a wind turbine’s blades move, they cause a drop in nearby air pressure. If a bat flies too close to a turbine, this drop in air pressure can damage its lungs. 

Scientists studied wind projects in Ontario for 10 years. They found that each wind turbine kills around 5 birds and 12 bats every year! There are 2 577 wind turbines in Ontario. Try to do the math. That is a lot of birds, and even more bats! 

Wind turbines can also change these animals’ habitats, behaviours and populations.

Habitat changes can happen when animals lose their sources of food, hiding spots or breeding places. These animals need to find somewhere else to live.

Behaviour changes can happen when animals must find new ways to get around. For example, birds might have to fly across roads leading up to the turbines. Migrating birds might have to find a new route.

Population changes can happen when animals have trouble finding mates and places to nest. This can lower biodiversity in the areas around wind turbines. It can also put some species at risk.

Turbines and cleared land
Turbines need clear ground and roads around them (Source: grandriver via iStockphoto).

How are people working to help wildlife living near turbines?

Governments make rules about wind farms. (3) These rules say: 

  • where wind turbines can be built;

  • how wind turbines can be built; and

  • how they must be run. 

The rules are designed to protect local species habitats and migration routes. Companies and government agencies monitor the wind farms’ impacts on wildlife. They use this information to reduce the risks future wind projects may have on wildlife.

Also, some environmental groups are trying to protect animals from wind turbines. One example is the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA)

How can we prevent deaths from wind turbines? Some biologists say that wind turbines should not turn on days with low winds. Bats are more active when wind is low. They are more likely to be hurt on these days.

Wind power is becoming an important source of energy for Canadians. But wind projects can also cause big problems for wildlife. It’s good to know that different groups are working to protect our flying friends.

Starting Points

Connecting and Relating
  • Have you ever visited a wind farm? What did you think when you saw it?
  • How would you feel if you found out that a wind farm was being built near your home or school?
  •  
Connecting and Relating
  • Have you ever visited a wind farm? What did you think when you saw it?
  • How would you feel if you found out that a wind farm was being built near your home or school?
  •  
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • Should society be concerned about the impact of wind farms on wildlife? Why or why not? Explain your answer.
  • What are three things wind farms can do to minimize the impact of wind turbines on wildlife?
  • If you could choose the source of your electricity, what would you choose? Explain your choice.
  •  
Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment
  • Should society be concerned about the impact of wind farms on wildlife? Why or why not? Explain your answer.
  • What are three things wind farms can do to minimize the impact of wind turbines on wildlife?
  • If you could choose the source of your electricity, what would you choose? Explain your choice.
  •  
Exploring Concepts
  • How do wind turbines generate electricity?
  • How can wind turbines and wind farms affect animal populations? 
  • How can wind turbines and wind farms affect animal habitats? 
  • Name three direct and three indirect impacts of wind turbines and wind farms on wildlife.
  • How can wind farms impact biodiversity?
  •  
Exploring Concepts
  • How do wind turbines generate electricity?
  • How can wind turbines and wind farms affect animal populations? 
  • How can wind turbines and wind farms affect animal habitats? 
  • Name three direct and three indirect impacts of wind turbines and wind farms on wildlife.
  • How can wind farms impact biodiversity?
  •  
Nature of Science/Nature of Technology
  • Scientists are continually looking for ways to reduce the impact of wind farming on wildlife. Suggest an idea or technology that scientists should investigate.
  • If you were a scientist, how would you set up an inquiry to investigate the number of birds or bats that are killed by a given wind turbine?
  •  
Nature of Science/Nature of Technology
  • Scientists are continually looking for ways to reduce the impact of wind farming on wildlife. Suggest an idea or technology that scientists should investigate.
  • If you were a scientist, how would you set up an inquiry to investigate the number of birds or bats that are killed by a given wind turbine?
  •  
Teaching Suggestions
  • This article can be used for Earth & Environment, Biology, Engineering & Technology teaching and learning related to generating electricity, vertebrates and the diversity of living things. Concepts introduced include electricity generation, renewable energy, mechanical energy, wind turbines, barotrauma and biodiversity.
  • Before reading the article, teachers could have students complete an Admit Slip learning strategy to access their prior knowledge of this topic. Download ready-to-use reproducibles using the Admit Slip learning strategy for this article in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • After reading the article, teachers could have students further consolidate and extend their understanding of the information presented by working through the following math questions and then answering the consolidation questions for each math activity: 
    • Math: Have students estimate and then count the number of birds in the first photograph. 
    • Follow-up question: How can wind turbines affect bird migration?
    • Math: Have students solve the word problem: 
    • Follow-up question: What could happen to bird and bats populations as Ontario increases its use of wind power in the future? 
    • Math: Have students measure the total area of land (size of image) of the second photograph and then estimate and measure the amount of land needed for the wind turbines. This includes the circular light brown areas by the turbines as well as the roads and roadsides. 
  • Follow-up questions: How do wind farms impact on “land” as a natural resource? What other activities or businesses may be affected by the amount of land that is used by wind farms? 
  • After reading the article and viewing the embedded video, students could explore the positive and negative aspects of wind turbines and wind farms by completing a Pros & Cons Organizer learning strategy. Ready-to-use Pros & Cons Organizer reproducibles are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats. 
Teaching Suggestions
  • This article can be used for Earth & Environment, Biology, Engineering & Technology teaching and learning related to generating electricity, vertebrates and the diversity of living things. Concepts introduced include electricity generation, renewable energy, mechanical energy, wind turbines, barotrauma and biodiversity.
  • Before reading the article, teachers could have students complete an Admit Slip learning strategy to access their prior knowledge of this topic. Download ready-to-use reproducibles using the Admit Slip learning strategy for this article in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats.
  • After reading the article, teachers could have students further consolidate and extend their understanding of the information presented by working through the following math questions and then answering the consolidation questions for each math activity: 
    • Math: Have students estimate and then count the number of birds in the first photograph. 
    • Follow-up question: How can wind turbines affect bird migration?
    • Math: Have students solve the word problem: 
    • Follow-up question: What could happen to bird and bats populations as Ontario increases its use of wind power in the future? 
    • Math: Have students measure the total area of land (size of image) of the second photograph and then estimate and measure the amount of land needed for the wind turbines. This includes the circular light brown areas by the turbines as well as the roads and roadsides. 
  • Follow-up questions: How do wind farms impact on “land” as a natural resource? What other activities or businesses may be affected by the amount of land that is used by wind farms? 
  • After reading the article and viewing the embedded video, students could explore the positive and negative aspects of wind turbines and wind farms by completing a Pros & Cons Organizer learning strategy. Ready-to-use Pros & Cons Organizer reproducibles are available in [Google doc] and [PDF] formats. 

Learn more

Stem Works: Wind Energy Activities

Hands-on activities, puzzles and games about wind energy

Build a Wind Farm

Resource management online game from the National Museums of Scotland (requires Flash player). Note that wind speed measurements are given in miles per hour.

References

Bird Canada (2018, November 28). Wind energy bird and bat monitoring database summary.

Kingsley, A., & Whittam, B. (2007). Wind turbines and birds: a guidance document for environmental assessment. Canadian Wildlife Service.

Martin, C.M, Arnett, E. B., Stevens, R.D, Wallace, Mark C. (2017). Reducing bat fatalities at wind facilities while improving the economic efficiency of operational mitigation. Journal of Mammalogy, 98(2), 378-385. DOI: 10.1093/jmammal/gyx005

Thaxter, C.B., et al. (2017). Bird and bat species' global vulnerability to collision mortality with wind farms revealed through a trait-based assessment. Proc. R. Soc. B., 284. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0829