Study: Screaming cranes avoid wind turbines

Whooping-cough cranes that migrate through the Great Plains avoid “rest stops” located within 3 miles of wind energy infrastructure, according to a study published March 7 in the journal Ecological Applications.

Avoiding wind turbines can reduce collision mortality for birds, but it can also be more difficult and time consuming for migratory herds to find safe and convenient rest and gas stations. The findings of the study on migration behavior could improve future location decisions as the wind energy infrastructure continues to grow.

“In the past, federal agencies had considered wind-related impacts, primarily related to collision risks,” said Aaron Pearse, first author of the paper and wildlife biologist at the US Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. “I think this research is changing that paradigm by focusing more on potential impacts on key migratory habitats.”

The study tracked screaming cranes migrating across the Great Plains, a region that includes a mosaic of farmland, grasslands and wetlands. The wind energy infrastructure in the region has increased rapidly in recent years. In 2010, 2,215 wind towers stood within the Whooping Crane migration corridor, which the study focused on. As of 2016, when the study ended, there were 7,622 wind towers in the same area.

Pearse and colleagues note that the crane population continued to grow over the six-year study period, suggesting that there are “no immediate consequences for the population”. However, they found that Whooping Cranes, which hiked the study area in 2010 and 2016, were 20 times more likely to select “rest areas” that were at least 3 miles from wind turbines than those closer to turbines.

The authors estimated that 5 percent of the high-quality layovers in the study area were affected by the presence of wind towers. The location of the wind infrastructure outside the Whooping Cranes migration corridor would reduce the risk of further habitat loss not only for the cranes but also for the millions of other birds that use the same land for breeding, migration and wintering habitats.

This article will be published in Birding Briefs in the May / June 2021 issue of BirdWatching.

The sad future of the whooping crane

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