December 21, 2018 by Mark Whittingham, The Conversation
Wind turbines are a leading source of green energy which could supply 12% of the world's energy by 2020. But their use is often criticised for its impact on wildlife, particularly birds. Larger birds can collide with turbines and some have even learned to avoid flying near them.
Impacts on smaller birds are less well documented as they tend to manoeuvre around turbines and can avoid impacting with them much more easily than larger species. My own research showed that birds associated with farmland, including a range of songbirds, were generally unfazed – their winter distribution didn't change in the presence of turbines.
But there were also some intriguing patterns in the behaviour of skylarks in early spring. We noticed their numbers were generally lower close to turbines. I wondered then whether the noise emitted by the turbines might be responsible.
Wind turbines and songbird communication
Much of the evidence for how wind turbines affect birds concerns their distribution patterns around turbines, but we know little about why birds choose to avoid them. The robin, a widespread small bird which lives in rural areas where turbines are common, seemed a perfect candidate to investigate.
Robins are an aggressive but popular species in the UK, having recently been voted the nation's favourite bird. Males are territorial beyond proportion to their diminutive size. Nevertheless, we subjected territorial male robins to one of three treatments – another robin's song, a robin's song with wind turbine noise, and wind turbine noise alone – via a sound recording device inside their territory.