Government Using GPS to Track Bald Eagles -- Right Into Wind Turbines?

Susan Jones | March 13, 2012 | 9:29am EDT
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Photo credit: Teryl G. Grubb, U.S. Forest Service

( - The U.S. Forest Service plans to outfit six bald eagles with GPS devices to track their "interactions with wind farms." The problem: Eagles and many other birds are smacking into wind turbines and dying.

"Despite the many benefits which come from clean wind energy, one of the most majestic birds of prey, the eagle, is itself falling prey to the blades of wind-energy facilities," a Forest Service employee wrote Monday on the Agriculture Department blog.

"For reasons still not clear to scientists, eagles are vulnerable to collisions with wind turbines, and in some areas such collisions can be a major source of the bird’s mortality."

The solar-powered transmitter, described as a "tiny bird backpack," records the bird's location four times an hour. So far, one adult bald eagle has been outfitted with the GPS transmitter. Five more will get the same treatment.

According to the Forest Service, "the data will provide amazing precision in bald eagle behavior patterns and habitat use."

The data may also help the wind-energy industry develop ways of reducing eagle fatalities at wind farms.

Separately, a federal Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee has developed voluntary guidelines for the industry to consider in choosing a wind turbine site. The goal is to help the industry make "wise development decisions," which "avoid or minimize potential impacts to wildlife and habitat."

The guidelines include a series of questions to be answered at different stages of wind-turbine construction, including the screening of possible sites, field studies that document wildlife at the site, and post-construction fatality studies.

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