Article image

Renewable energy is the latest threat to bird populations

As bird populations continue to decline worldwide, a new concern has emerged: the impact of renewable energy facilities. 

Scientists at the University of Florida analyzed feathers from deceased birds to shed light on this pressing issue.

Unintended consequence 

“Bird mortality has become an unintended consequence of renewable energy development,” said Professor Hannah Vander Zanden. 

“If we want to minimize or even offset these fatalities, especially for vulnerable populations, we need to identify the geographic origin of affected birds. In other words, are the dead birds local or are they coming from other parts of North America?”

Renewable energy facilities and bird fatalities 

Renewable energy facilities, while environmentally friendly, pose a significant risk to birds. Wind turbines, solar panels, and concentrating solar power plants have been associated with bird fatalities. 

Birds often collide with wind turbines, mistake solar panels for water bodies, or get singed by solar power plants. 

Although these fatalities are less common than deaths caused by domestic cats or building collisions, the need to address this issue is pressing, according to the researchers.

Focus of the research 

Professor Vander Zanden and her team analyzed stable hydrogen isotope data from the feathers of 871 individual birds across 24 species found dead at California’s solar and wind energy facilities. 

This analysis, based on the natural markers in feathers linked to the water the birds consumed, allowed the researchers to trace the birds’ geographic origins. 

“With these markers, we could determine whether the bird was local or if it was migrating from somewhere else,” explained Vander Zanden, the principal investigator of UF’s Animal Migration and Ecology Lab.

Critical insights 

The study revealed that birds killed at these facilities came from a wide geographic area across the continent, with both local and nonlocal birds represented. 

At solar facilities, most of the deceased birds were nonlocal, with a peak in fatalities during migratory periods in April, and from September through October. 

The percentage of migratory birds found at wind facilities nearly matched that of local birds, at 51%, noted Vander Zanden.

“This kind of data can help inform us about best strategies to use to minimize or mitigate the fatalities. For example, facilities management could work with conservationists to improve the local habitat to help protect local birds or improve other parts of the species’ range where the migratory birds originate.”

Study implications 

The study not only highlights the challenges renewable energy poses to bird populations but also underscores the value of stable isotope data in understanding and predicting future trends in bird populations. 

This noninvasive method of studying animal remains provides crucial information for conservation efforts.

“Studying the remains of animals is a noninvasive approach to get information that is otherwise hard to track and apply to conservation,” said Professor Vander Zanden. “It’s a great way to understand the mysteries about animals.”

More about declining bird populations

The decline in bird populations globally is an increasingly urgent environmental issue. Several factors contribute to this decline, including habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and human activities.

Habitat loss

The most significant cause of bird population decline is the loss and fragmentation of habitat. Urban development, agriculture, deforestation, and other land-use changes directly remove the natural habitats birds need to survive and reproduce.

Climate change

Shifts in climate patterns affect bird migration, breeding, and food availability. Changes in temperature and weather patterns can disrupt the delicate balance of ecosystems, making it difficult for birds to adapt quickly enough.


Pesticides, heavy metals, and plastic pollution harm birds directly and indirectly. Pesticides can be toxic, and birds often ingest plastics or get entangled in them. Also, oil spills and other contaminants severely impact bird populations, particularly in coastal and marine environments.

Human activities

Wind turbines, high-rise buildings, and other structures pose significant threats to birds, mainly through collisions. Additionally, domestic cats are known to be significant predators of birds in many regions.


Emerging diseases can rapidly decimate bird populations. For instance, avian malaria and West Nile virus have had significant impacts on some bird species.

Invasive species

The introduction of non-native species can disrupt local ecosystems. These invasive species often compete with native birds for food and nesting sites or may even prey upon them.

The study is published in the journal Conservation Biology.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day