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Painting wind turbines black could help protect birds – as long as it doesn’t disrupt their migration


With climate change threatening many of the world’s species with extinction, a transition from fossil fuels is urgently needed. But some argue that the rush to replace coal power with wind could endanger birds that have a habit of flying into turbines.

While wind farms aren’t quite the bird slayers they’re often portrayed to be – one study found that they cause 0.4 deaths per gigawatt hour (GWh) of electricity generated, compared with 5.2 dead birds for every GWh generated by fossil-fuelled power stations – wildlife collisions with turbines and power lines are likely to be an unfortunate side-effect of any effort to ramp up renewable electricity supply.

But a recent study from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research might offer a solution. Researchers compared bird mortality rates over five years at a Norwegian wind farm and then randomly selected four out of the 68 turbines for a new paint job. They found that painting a single wind turbine blade black could reduce bird fatalities by 72%, and it was most effective at reducing collision deaths for birds of prey, such as white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla).

So should we be painting more wind turbines black? MORE

Header image: A wind turbine with a painted rotor blade in the Smøla power plant, Norway. Credit: May et al. (2020)/Ecology and Evolution.