In the News: 484 Blackpoll Warblers Die at Wind Farm


Immature Blackpoll Warbler (Photo by Jeffrey A. Gordon)

Over the past day or so, birding listservs have been abuzz over what is being described as a "kill" of at least 484 Blackpoll Warblers  at a newly-dedicated wind turbine facility on Laurel Mountain in West Virginia. Although this story didn't make the six o'clock news, the impact of wind turbines on birds is a front burner topic among birders, so any news about hundreds of birds dying at a wind farm is sure to cause a stir.

Those who didn't take the time to read the fine print in the various online posts might presume that the Blackpolls killed at Laurel Mountain roughly two weeks ago succumbed as a result of flying into the turbines during nocturnal migrations.  However, it appears that turbine collisions were not to blame for these bird deaths. Instead, most of the Blackpolls appear to have died from crashing into an adjoining substation structure where lights were left on overnight ( 


To appreciate the size of these wind turbines, compare them to the car on the dirt road in the foreground. (Photo source:

While the impacts of wind farms on birds are not fully quantified, it is well-established that bright lights attract and disorient birds migrating nocturnally, particular on foggy nights (Jones and Francis 2003). Birds--mostly passerines--often collide with the heavily-lit structures. During peak migrations hundreds  (sometimes thousands) of birds may perish at a single site in a single night. Lighthouses, high-rise buildings, and radio/TV towers have historically caused the bulk this avian mortality. In this case lights were inadvertently left on overnight at the Laurel Mountain facility. 


This NASA image shows the abundance of man-made light pollution that exists in heavily-populated and developed sections of the globe (Image source: 

The Laurel Mountain project is situated along a long north-south running ridge in the Alleghany Mountains. During Fall migration southbound passerines and raptors funnel south along this section of the Appalachian Mountain Range. We at BirdFellow are concerned about any large tower or structure constructed along this or any migration corridor and doubly concerned when such projects involve bright lighting. We applaud those engaged in the ongoing study of impacts of wind energy generation and light pollution on bird populations. Hopefully, continued research will allow  us to more responsibly tap into wind energy while simultaneously protecting birds and other wildlife from the apparent dangers that accompany wind farm development. 

The American Bird Conservancy offered this news release today: 

If you are interested in learning more about the bird-related impacts of light pollution and wind farms we recommend the following sources.

Light Pollution:

Wind Farms:

Literature Cited:

Jones, J. and Francis, C.M. 2003. The effects of light characteristics on avian mortality at lighthouses. Journal of Avian Biology. 34:328-333.  Online at:


For all but the last fleeting instant of the history of Earth, the night sky has been profoundly dark. Consider that if the last 4.6 billion years were compressed into one year, man appeared—give or take a cup of coffee—about ten o’clock on 31 Dec; you could hold your breath until the clock struck midnight as the Pyramids of Giza were built; the Christian era has taken place in the time it takes to pull up a balky web page, and the life span of the average person lasts about as long as a sneeze. Tens of millions of kids grow up now on the American conurban asphalt footprint staring at a handheld screen, eyes down, without ever seeing Ursa Minor, companion of my evening walks as a child. Imagine how lurid and dazzling a brilliant man-made light must seem to a migrating bird, whose genetics and adaptive history have not prepared it for such a stimulus. In my darker moments, I fear we have lost the group will to endure the pain of remembering what the real world is supposed to be about—a home we must share with races that can neither speak to us nor vote.


Hello. And Bye.


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