Wind Turbines Deter Whooping Cranes From Stopover Sites, Study Confirms

by Jordan Rutter, American Bird Conservancy

A new study published this month (March 2021) in the journal Ecological Applications reveals that migratory habitat for the Whooping Crane is being gradually reduced by wind energy development. Researchers found that this Endangered bird avoids turbines to a distance of 3.1 miles (5 kilometers), eliminating otherwise usable stopover sites if turbines are placed too close to them. Five percent of the best stopover habitat has already been functionally lost, the authors found. Many more wind facilities are being planned, indicating that unless steps are taken to distance turbines from stopover sites, this situation could grow even more dire.

“The results of this ground-breaking study are really eye-opening — the buildout of wind energy is already having a negative cumulative impact,” says Joel Merriman, Director of the Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign at American Bird Conservancy. “There are more than 10,000 wind turbines scattered throughout the Whooping Crane’s migratory pathway. We now know that too many of these turbines are eliminating important migratory stopover habitat for this Endangered species.”

Each year, the last naturally occurring Whooping Crane population makes a 5,000-mile round trip, moving south in spring then north in fall along a narrow corridor between Canadian breeding grounds and wintering grounds in coastal Texas. Not marathon flyers, the birds must stop to rest and refuel several times along each seasonal journey.

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