The dead carcasses of birds littering the ground around wind energy towers may produce a side effect — good predator hunting.
‘Cuisinart’ For Birds
Sam Waite, a retired electrical engineer who worked at the Naval Air Warfare Station and Edwards Air Force Base in California, told Cowboy State Daily he and his hunting buddies used to hunt coyotes around the wind farms lining California Highway 58 west of the Mojave Desert and east of Bakersfield.
Waite, a long-ranger shooter, and his friends had to wait for nautical twilight when it was legal to hunt in California. At about 3 a.m., the group would set up in the foothills above the wind farms.
Waite calls the wind turbines “Cuisinart mixers for birds” that left the ground below littered with carcasses.
“The ground beneath every working mixer blade would be covered with dead and injured birds,” Waite said. “Eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, migratory geese, ducks, cranes, herons, swallows and even hummingbirds. Some months were greater bird kills depending upon the migratory progress.”
He said the carrion made for a target-rich environment for coyotes, feral dogs and bobcats.
“We’d even see bears and mountain lions coming for the easy meal,” he said.
Waite said if California had allowed night hunting with spot lights or night vision back then, they’d have bagged a lot more predators.
Mike Lockhart, a wildlife biologist specializing in eagles who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 30 years, is concerned about the impacts of multiple wind projects being built in southern Wyoming right inside a major eagle migratory route.
After he retired from the Fish and Wildlife Service, he did mortality surveys around wind farms for an environmental consulting company in Wyoming.
He didn’t enjoy the work.
“It was depressing,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
Lockhart spends a lot of time out in the field around wind farms, and he said he’s seen plenty of coyotes. He said he’s never noticed if their numbers are higher around wind farms.
When it comes to scavenging dead eagles, he said, most larger predators won’t touch them.
“They seem to be afraid of them,” Lockhart said.
Most of what scavenges the eagle carcasses are insects and small mammals. Sometimes, he said, there’s scavenging from skunks and raccoons.
Most often, “the eagle carcass will stay out there and become completely desiccated and skeletal,” Lockhart said.
As for the other dead bats and birds, he said it’s likely animals are scavenging them.
“That’s a good food source,” he said.
Counting The Dead
Wind farm owners have to get permits for the number of eagles they kill, and some operators have been fined for exceeding their numbers.
Lockhart said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses a complex formula to determine how many eagles a wind farm will kill in a particular time period.
The wind companies also have consultants, Lockhart said, who walk the area around turbines and count dead eagles, bats and other types of birds.
Lockhart speculates that there’s a lot of eagles that aren’t found and counted. He said they sometimes survive being struck and falling to the ground, and they’ll crawl off and die away from the turbines.
He said carcass-sniffing dogs could be used to produce more accurate counts of how many eagles are being killed.
“That would improve efficiency, and you could cover those determined areas a lot more quickly,” Lockhart said.