A reader writes:
I'm in the industry. All new wind sites are required to perform pre- and post-construction surveys of bird fatalities. This is after months of migration watches, and general species/habitat identification. This means actual people walking regularly demarcated grids around a sampling of proposed and, later, operational turbines. These sweeps are done often enough to account for predation or scavenging of the carcasses. General operations personnel are also required to report avian fatalities they happen to come across. As a result, avian fatality numbers regarding wind turbines are scientifically quite accurate and well documented.
How many birds are killed in the mind-blowingly vast toxicity of an oil spill?
How many individual animals are killed (to say nothing of the habitat destroyed) during strip mining or mountaintop removal mining? Air pollution? Mercury poisoning? Surface water and aquifer fouling? These numbers are a little harder come by because a) they're so vast and amorphous as compared to discrete, easy-to-count turbine collision events, and b) nobody's doing the counting.
While a single fatality is both legally and morally wrong, it's biological significance on the population as a whole is non-existent. Can you say the same about the habitat rape of an oil spill or coal slurry breach?
Wind is the new kid on the block, with a lot less weight to throw around than the well-funded and well-entrenched extraction industries. It makes wind a more attractive bureaucratic target -- fewer lawyers in the room, you know?
The question of how many birds are killed directly by oil (as in, coated by oil) or by the blades of wind generators is a total distraction. The only issue - and the one I think most environmentalists are focusing on - is the suffocation of many birds' habitats, which includes their food supply. The only reason groups like Think Progress are showcasing birds coated in oil is because this is an image people can relate to.
Wind farms will never cause bird species to go extinct. On the other hand, coating the wetlands and bays in oil will. If there are no wetlands or bays, there are no fish and insects, which means there are no birds. The difference between introducing a chemical into the wild vs. introducing a structure couldn't be clearer.
First, your reader who writes that "Think Progress is meticulously tracking the deaths of a few hundred birds" is greatly misinformed. They are tracking the few hundred birds FOUND. There are vast reaches of marsh and sea where birds will die and never be found. They will die from coating, and even more will die from ingesting the oil. Comparing "a few hundred birds" to the windmill strikes is absurd.
Second, while some level of bird strikes have been measured, it appears that the greater danger may be to migratory bats. There are a number of articles out there, and I have personally spoken to several bat researchers who said that this is a big worry. A WaPo article discusses this, and a Nat Geo article talks about the actual cause of death which, oddly enough, isn't even actual strikes with the blades. Rather, the bats are killed by pressure changes caused by the blades: "A surprising 90 percent showed signs of internal hemorrhagingevidence of a drop in air pressure near the blades that causes fatal damage to the bats' lungs with a condition called barotrauma." To make matters worse, it seems that the bats might actually be attracted to the windmills.