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Testing for errors in estimating bird mortality rates at wind farms and power lines

Farfán, M and Duarte, J and Fa, JE and Real, R and Vargas, JM (2017) Testing for errors in estimating bird mortality rates at wind farms and power lines. Bird Conservation International. pp. 1-9. ISSN 0959-2709

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Abstract

Wind power, as an alternative to fossil fuels, is increasingly common, and is expanding worldwide. Wind farms cause mortality of flying animals through collision with moving rotor blades, and from electrocution on associated power lines. Avian mortality rates have been estimated from birds collected under turbines over varying time intervals. However, without adequate and frequent monitoring, dead birds may be removed by scavengers and thus cause an underestimation of fatalities. In this paper, we tested experimentally for possible errors arising in avian mortality caused by the removal of carcasses by scavengers. At two different wind farms and associated power lines in southern Spain, we placed pigeon and quail carcasses to determine their disappearance rate. All dead pigeons were radio-tagged to estimate distances taken by scavengers. We found significant differences in carcass disappearance rates of pigeons and quails, and between wind farms and power lines but not between habitats. All quails and 45% of pigeon carcasses had disappeared by the third and fourteenth day, respectively. Less than half (40%) of the carcasses were found < 100 m from where they were deposited. While scavenging losses may vary according to the location of the wind farm or power line, here we propose a method to estimate correctly the number of fatalities at any wind farm and power line. Using this method, we can improve our understanding of the real impact of wind structures on adjacent bird communities, and adopt appropriate measures to ensure their conservation.

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