How Are Birds Affected by the Block Island Wind Farm and How Do They Interact With the Wind Turbines?

This question was supplied by the ‘Ask the Experts’ database managers.

Reviewed by: Dr. Scott McWilliams

Last Update: May 21st, 2020

The Ask the Experts database managers conducted an interview with Dr. Scott McWilliams (Professor of Wildlife Ecology & Physiology) to summarize the findings of multiple URI studies that have set out to minimize the effects that the Block Island Wind Farm has had on birds and bats.

Dr. McWilliams begins by stating that birds interact with offshore wind turbines in one of three ways. First, many birds do not experience any interaction with the turbines at all as they fly either at a higher altitude or closer to the shore than the turbines’ locations. The second interaction between birds and offshore wind turbines is a positive one that has been documented throughout Europe; but, with only the Block Island Wind Farm, it is too early to document in the United States. Researchers have found that the base of a wind turbine can create artificial reefs that act as an attractive site to both fish and shellfish. These artificial reefs provide a feeding ground for certain species of birds as the turbines essentially become a central habitat for many bird species’ prey. The final interaction that birds have with offshore wind turbines is displacement. This primary negative effect is experienced when wind turbines are constructed in areas that birds would naturally like to be; but, due to the structures, no longer have access to. To put it simply, he says, “if you put the turbines where the birds want to be, you take away these areas from the birds”.

The research that has been done at the Block Island Wind Farm is consistent with European research where the biggest potential negative effect of offshore wind on birds is displacement. 

The potential negative effect of displacement is largely responsible for the amount of in-depth research which was a required part of the planning process for the Block Island Wind Farm. The researchers involved in siting the turbines set out to determine where the birds wanted to be and what resources they were reliant upon. They then used this information to determine the areas where the turbines should not be constructed. This process ensured that the developers of the Block Island Wind Farm were aware of and able to avoid construction in the areas that act as hotspots for many marine birds.

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