Donald Trump has said that he "never understood wind." A big part of his confusion about the appeal of the renewable energy source, aside from his unfounded belief that noise from windmills causes cancer, is the fact that the massive turbine blades have a tendency to kill birds. As it turns out, there's a relatively simple solution to Trump's concerns about "bird graveyards" forming around these sources of clean energy. A new study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution found that simply painting one of the turbine blades black can cut back on 70 percent of bird deaths.
Researchers focused on a wind farm on the Norwegian archipelago of Smøla, an area that has a population of sea eagles which have been adversely affected by the turbines. The wind farm consists of 68 turbines, each about 230 feet tall with 130-foot long blades that have been known to kill birds as they pass. To combat this, four of the wind turbines had a single blade painted black.
The result was a dramatic drop off in the number of birds killed by the blades. Between 2006 and 2013, prior to the paint job, 18 birds fell victim to the blades. After slapping on a coat of black in 2013, only 6 birds have been killed since, representing a 71.9 percent drop in bird fatality rate.
The results are encouraging, but there are some complicating factors. The drop in birth deaths largely occurred in the spring and autumn seasons. But during the summer months, there was actually an increase in the number of birds that were killed by the blades. The authors of the study suggest that the small sample size in the number of turbines may be responsible for this variance, and a more extensive study could provide some clarity.
Despite the uptick in summer deaths, there appears to be solid evidence to suggest that painting wind turbines and their blades basically any color but white would prevent a considerable amount of unnecessary death for birds, bats, and other wildlife. According to previous research, including a study published in the journal European Journal of Wildlife Research, white turbines and blades tend to attract insects, which in turn attract predators — particularly birds. As they try to snag a snack from the sky, they find themselves swooping directly into a fan blade.
Researchers have suggested painting these structures purple would be the best choice, though convincing people to embrace massive, purple windmills might prove to be a bit of a challenge. Trump, for instance, already calls wind turbines eyesores. Just imagine his reaction if they were 200-foot-tall towers of deep purple. Then again, he's built a 64-story, gold-tinted building, so who is he to judge?
Wind turbines have never quite been the terror that critics tend to make them out to be — electrical power lines kill about twice as many birds each year — but they certainly do kill some wildlife. It is estimated that about 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed each year by wind turbines in North America. It seems that figure could be cut back dramatically with just a couple coats of paint.