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Modeling the spatial distribution of carcasses of eagles killed by wind turbines

June 15, 2023

Currently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service makes eagle permitting and management decisions nationwide based on a limited understanding of the impacts of wind power generation on eagles, and the factors that influence risk at a given facility. Accurate estimates of eagle mortality at wind power facilities form the basis for comparing the magnitudes of mortality rates in different areas and for measuring the benefits of proposed methods of minimizing the collision-caused impacts to eagle populations. Simple counts of observed eagle carcasses at wind facilities are almost certainly underestimates of the true mortality because fatalities can be removed by scavengers, be missed by searchers, or fall outside searched areas. For the latter, models of relative carcass density as a function of distance from the turbine can be fit to observed carcass locations and used to estimate the proportion of carcasses expected to land within an area of any configuration beneath a turbine. In the USA, however, it has been difficult to estimate these models for large birds such as Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) due to inadequate numbers of dead eagles found at any single facility. In this case, analysis of a surrogate species might be useful to inform carcass distributions. We chose to model the carcass distribution of White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) in Norway as an informative surrogate for Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles in the USA. Our three best-fitting parametric models were very consistent in estimating that 50% (95% CI: 40–60%) of White-tailed Eagle carcasses land within approximately 42 m of the turbines that had 70-m hubs and approximately 40-m blades. Although our models were fit to data from White-tailed Eagles and not Bald or Golden Eagles, applying these models when calculating mortality impacts of wind developments on both eagle species will likely improve the accuracy of post-construction mortality estimates, particularly at sites where substantial areas may be unsearchable. Accurate post-construction mortality estimates can inform pre-construction fatality prediction models. Resource managers can determine whether their conditions are sufficiently similar to those we modeled to warrant the use of these models for Bald and Golden Eagle carcass distributions.

Publication Year 2023
Title Modeling the spatial distribution of carcasses of eagles killed by wind turbines
DOI 10.3356/JRR-21-53
Authors Manuela Huso, Daniel Dalthorp, Jeffrey Michael Mintz, Torgeir Nygård, Roel May
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Raptor Research
Index ID 70248351
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center