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April 16, 2024

Wind is a resource we share with wildlife, but as wind energy expands, so too do the questions surrounding the impact of wind energy on wildlife. 

The sky as habitat

It’s easy to overlook the sky, at least when considering types of habitat. But for animals that fly, the sky is an important habitat—one that they have mastered.

At the USGS, scientists in the field of aeroecology look over the sky instead of overlooking it. They study the sky as a habitat, the animals that use it—like where they are present and when—and how these animals interact with each other and their habitat. 

Golden Eagle soaring near a wind turbine tower in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, California
Wind turbines and a rainbow towering high above trees on an island in Hawaii. Paul Cryan, USGS, Fort Collins Science Center.
Anatomy of a Wind Turbine    The bigger the turbine, the more energy it can produce. The newest, most efficient turbines are getting enormous. Modern wind turbines have towers upwards of 300 feet tall, and with blades that are about 200 feet long, the tallest point of the turbine can be as high as 500 feet above ground. The turbine in this picture towers over the treetops.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

For the most part, flying animals are familiar with their aerial habitat, including the obstacles that they might encounter when using it. However, humans have invented new things that flying animals don’t recognize as obstacles because they didn’t evolve with them present, like buildings with clear glass windows or wind turbines. 

It might not be obvious, but wind is a resource we share with wildlife. Much like a raptor harnesses wind energy in updrafts to gain altitude in flight, we harness the energy in wind to create electricity.

Wind energy production is expanding across the U.S. meeting the growing need for renewable energy. Presently, there are more than 73,000 turbines in 43 states and territories, most of which are on land. But wind farming is also expanding into the offshore environment with wind facilities present in the Atlantic and planned in the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine, and the Great Lakes.

As wind energy production expands, so too do the potential impacts on wildlife. Flying wildlife often don’t survive an encounter with a wind turbine blade, but there are more subtle negative impacts as well, like displacement when animals avoid an area they used to inhabit.

Understandably, scientists and natural resource managers are interested in finding ways to mitigate wildlife-wind turbine interactions. 


USGS scientists have studied wildlife-wind energy interactions for decades.

In that time, they’ve learned a lot. For instance, besides tallying which species are commonly impacted, USGS scientists and partners found that certain bat and bird species are disproportionately affected by collisions with rotating wind turbines.

They’ve also shown that bird fatalities in a location don’t just impact resident speciesthey also impact birds that migrate, meaning that the overall impact can be broader than expected and affect wildlife that normally spend time far away from a wind facility. Importantly, a 2022 study showed that nearly half of bird species studied could suffer population declines because of fatalities at renewable energy facilities. 

USGS science is also helping to reduce impacts from wind energy production. Scientists have developed decision-making tools that help to plan the location for new wind facilities in places where risk to wildlife is lower. Another study showed that systems put in place to automatically slow and temporarily shut off wind turbine blades when golden eagles are nearby are effective at reducing eagle fatalities. 

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions,


  • Can scientists help design wind turbines or operational protocols of wind turbines that deter wildlife or reduce wildlife collisions with wind turbines?
  •  What are the expected number of wildlife fatalities into the future and which species are most susceptible?
  • Do offshore wind facilities pose the same risk of collision to birds and bats that land-based facilities do?
  • Do offshore wind facilities displace marine and aquatic species?
  • What are the trade-offs between impacts to wildlife from wind facilities versus the benefits renewable energy sources provide to address climate change? 

To answer these questions, USGS scientists are hard at work on a number of projects and studies.

Shared airspace risks

As wind facilities expand into the offshore environment, it’s harder to track wildlife interactions with these turbines. USGS scientists are testing new technologies to be better equipped to monitor wildlife around wind facilities so they can eventually assess potential impacts to wildlife. New technologies being tested include:

  • Radar to track bird movements offshore
  • Software to process video imagery of bats at night
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate analysis of aerial imagery of wildlife taken from planes flying offshore
  • Molecular tools to identify which species are present around wind facilities and where they have traveled from
  • Assessing effectiveness of painting wind turbine blades to make wind energy safer for birds
Wind turbines

Which animals are at the greatest risk?

a pair of eagles soaring over a grassy hill, three wind turbines are in the background

For wildlife that are negatively impacted by wind facilities, scientists want to know the degree of the impact on their populations. To help put the scale of negative impact into context, the North American Bat Monitoring Program, or NABat, tracks bat populations across North America. Scientists working with the Renewables- Wildlife Solutions Initiative are developing science-based tools to understand population-level and cumulative impacts for wildlife affected by renewable energy facilities. 

With the scale of negative impacts put into context, wildlife managers can prioritize mitigation and protection for the most impacted species and make decisions about how to address bird and bat mortalities from wind facilities. 

Reducing negative impacts

USGS scientists are developing methods and technologies to reduce the impact on wildlife by reducing collisions with turbine blades. This work is also being used to inform mitigation strategies. 

Bat approaching turbine tower

With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly more severe, the need for renewable energy will continue to grow. Although wind energy production can negatively impact wildlife, it is possible to limit those impacts. Dedicated USGS aeroecologists, wildlife biologists and other scientists are committed to producing the science and decision-making tools that are needed to limit those impacts.

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