On a collision course? The large diversity of birds killed by wind turbines in South Africa
Wind energy is a clean, renewable alternative to fossil fuel-derived energy sources, but many birds are at risk from collisions with wind turbines. We summarise the diversity of birds killed by turbine collisions at 20 wind energy facilities (WEFs) across southwest South Africa. Monitoring from 2014 to 2018 recovered 848 bird carcasses across all WEFs, at a crude rate of 1.0 ± 0.6 birds turbine−1 y−1 at 16 WEFs with at least 12 months of postconstruction monitoring. However, mortality estimates adjusted for detection and scavenger bias were appreciably higher: 4.6 ± 2.9 birds turbine−1 y−1 or 2.0 ± 1.3 birds MW−1 y−1 (n = 14 WEFs with site-specific bias correction factors), which is slightly lower than mean rates reported in the northern hemisphere, but still well within range. A striking result was the high diversity of birds killed: 130 species from 46 families, totalling 30% of bird species recorded at and around WEFs, including some species not recorded by specialist surveys at WEF sites (e.g. flufftails Sarothruridae). Species accumulation models suggest that 184 (±22) species will be killed at these facilities, some 42% of species found in the vicinity of WEFs. This is despite the smaller number of migrants in the study region, compared with the north temperate zone. Diurnal raptors were killed most often (36% of carcasses, 23 species) followed by passerines (30%, 49 species), waterbirds (11%, 24 species), swifts (9%, six species), large terrestrial birds (5%, 10 species), pigeons (4%, six species) and other near passerines (1%, seven species). Species of conservation concern killed include endangered Cape Vultures Gyps coprotheres and Black Harriers Circus maurus, both of which are endemic to southern Africa. Every effort must be made to site wind energy facilities away from important areas for birds, particularly raptors.
Keywords: bird diversity, bird fatality rates, bird turbine collisions, postconstruction monitoring, wind energy