Are wind turbines really a danger to birds?

The League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) is a new director. This is Matthieu Orphelin (ex-LREM), who is about to give up his post as deputy for Maine-et-Loire. This engineer specializing in environmental issues will take over from Yves Verilhac, the association’s current director, this fall. But this appointment arouses the indignation of a small environmental association: Ecology Action.

In a press release sent to the editorial staff on June 21, she believes that the LPO “betrays his fight for nature” by appointing a supporter of wind power as its head, “whose immense blades decimate birds and bats by the thousands every year”. Little known to the general public, Ecology Action presents itself as a defender of a “authentic ecology”who hears “to announce in the media the scams of environmentalism”.

Above all, she is very critical of the Europe Écologie les Verts (EELV) party and of most of the major French NGOs deemed “above ground (…) soulless, disconnected from the field, obsessed with societal issues and showing an absurd desire to destroy everything that makes France so charming”.

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Ecology Action defended nuclear power to accomplish the energy transition and therefore slays wind turbines on the grounds that they would be in danger of birds, which were gradually going to cities and countryside. An argument also mentioned by Marine Le Pen, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Éric Zemmour during the presidential campaign to oppose wind power.

130,000 birds per year in France

In fact, available sources struggle to estimate the real losses caused by wind turbines. In France, the LPO looked into this question, in a study published in 2017. It focused on 8 parks, located in special protection areas, where wild birds are numerous. The LPO estimates that in these areas, wind turbines each kill an average of 7 birds per year.

Compared to the 18,779 onshore wind turbines deployed in France as of December 31, 2021, this represented just over 130,000 birds killed each year. The LPO noted, however, that this damage is very difficult to assess, in particular because the corpses are rarely found, and vary according to the areas. Some, little affected by the avifauna, would be less affected by collisions.

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By taking the average of several studies, the American equivalent of the LPO estimates that a wind turbine kills 8 birds per year, which would cause the death of 538,000 birds each year in the United States. The American Bird Conservancy even projected a higher hypothesis at more than a million birds killed.

75 million birds killed by cats

By comparison, cats appear to be a much more serious threat to birds. In 2013, researchers published a study in the journal Nature which estimated that free-roaming domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds a year each year in the United States. The study particularly targeted the role of stray cats.

The latter would today be nearly 13 million in France, according to a bill tabled by LR deputies in 2019. And on national territory, the LPO estimates that 75 million birds are killed each year by felines.

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Another figure: that of birds killed by hunting. 5 million wood pigeons and 3 million pheasants will be slaughtered each year, according to the latest national survey published by the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB) for the 2013-2014 season. What relativize somewhat the damage caused by wind turbines, even if a significant proportion of the animals killed by hunters come from breeding.

The nuanced LPO

On the issue of wind turbines, the LPO adopts a nuanced position. It does not position itself against wind power and even sees it as a ” opportunity “ to combat climate change. In a summary published in 2019, however, it calls for certain sensitive sites to be avoided, in particular Natura 2000 areas, “to reduce the risk of collision and disruption during the operating phase” and to put in place “offsets” to make up for the loss of habitat linked to the installation of the machines.

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