Novel Scavenger Removal Trials Increase Wind Turbine—Caused Avian Fatality Estimates

Authors


puma@cal.net

Abstract

ABSTRACT  For comparing impacts of bird and bat collisions with wind turbines, investigators estimate fatalities/megawatt (MW) of rated capacity/year, based on periodic carcass searches and trials used to estimate carcasses not found due to scavenger removal and searcher error. However, scavenger trials typically place ≥10 carcasses at once within small areas already supplying scavengers with carcasses deposited by wind turbines, so scavengers may be unable to process and remove all placed carcasses. To avoid scavenger swamping, which might bias fatality estimates low, we placed only 1–5 bird carcasses at a time amongst 52 wind turbines in our 249.7-ha study area, each carcass monitored by a motion-activated camera. Scavengers removed 50 of 63 carcasses, averaging 4.45 days to the first scavenging event. By 15 days, which corresponded with most of our search intervals, scavengers removed 0% and 67% of large-bodied raptors placed in winter and summer, respectively, and 15% and 71% of small birds placed in winter and summer, respectively. By 15 days, scavengers removed 42% of large raptors as compared to 15% removed in conventional trials, and scavengers removed 62% of small birds as compared to 52% removed in conventional trials. Based on our methodology, we estimated mean annual fatalities caused by 21.9 MW of wind turbines in Vasco Caves Regional Preserve (within Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, California, USA) were 13 red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), 12 barn owls (Tyto alba), 18 burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), 48 total raptors, and 99 total birds. Compared to fatality rates estimated from conventional scavenger trials, our estimates were nearly 3 times higher for red-tailed hawk and barn owl, 68% higher for all raptors, and 67% higher for all birds. We also found that deaths/gigawatt-hour of power generation declined quickly with increasing capacity factor among wind turbines, indicating collision hazard increased with greater intermittency in turbine operations. Fatality monitoring at wind turbines might improve by using scavenger removal trials free of scavenger swamping and by relating fatality rates to power output data in addition to rated capacity (i.e., turbine size). The resulting greater precision in mortality estimates will assist wildlife managers to assess wind farm impacts and to more accurately measure the effects of mitigation measures implemented to lessen those impacts.

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