Do wind turbines endanger birds?

Jon Lawson
These scanners see the birds up to a kilometre away

Wind turbines are now bigger than ever and they could potentially be a danger to passing birds. However, one recent project in Wyoming organised by the Peregrine Fund has demonstrated that by using technology there has been an 82% reduction of eagle fatalities. 

The automated system, designed by IdentiFlight features machine vision scanners mounted on towers near the turbines. When a flying object is identified it is analysed to see if it matches predefined profiles of endangered species, with AI constantly expanding the database of shapes. 

“One of the advantages of the system is its ability to learn from the massive amounts of data that it collects daily from eagles and other protected bird species around the world,” said Carlos Jorquera, Chief Technology Officer for IdentiFlight. “By leveraging artificial intelligence technologies, such as machine-learning and convolutional neural networks, the system continuously improves as the data set grows. IdentiFlight has achieved dramatic improvements with expanded capabilities and new avian species added to better serve global needs, including Red and Black Kites, Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Wedge-tailed Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, Lesser Spotted Eagles and Condors. We are excited about the future and look forward to continuing to demonstrate that wildlife and wind generation can coexist.”

When the bird is identified the flight path is monitored and if it’s on a collision course with a turbine blade the brakes can be applied to stop it allowing the bird safely through. Then the brakes are released and the turbine spins as normal again, reducing generation downtime. Users can generate 3D maps of flight paths and the designers hope the system will offer a better understanding of avian behaviour as it is rolled out at sites around the world.

Lead author on this study and Director of Global Conservation Science at The Peregrine Fund concluded, “These results show that using the IdentiFlight system can lessen numbers of fatalities of eagles at wind energy facilities, reducing the conflict between wind energy and raptor conservation. As this technology continues to develop and improve, it has the potential to greatly impact raptor conservation around the globe.”

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