There is concern in California that planned wind turbine farms—intended to create new, renewable energy sources—will harm the populations of rare California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) and other birds of prey if placed in their habitat.
Jonathan Hall, assistant professor in the Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University, is using a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to monitor the flight patterns of condors to better understand how these birds respond to variation in topography and weather, which could ultimately save their lives.
“There’s a potential conflict between plans to harvest more wind energy and these large birds that use the same resource,” Hall said.
The placement of the turbines, paired with the condors’ expansive wing span and their inability to quickly respond to aerial threats (wind turbine blade tips can rotate at 150 miles per hour) could be a deadly combination for the rare bird.
“As it turns out, some of the most attractive sites for wind turbines are sites that condors and other large raptors utilize to move across the landscape.
“We’re trying to learn as much as we can about how condors navigate the landscape and respond to environmental conditions. A lot of time, money and effort has been and is still being spent on making sure these birds don’t disappear forever,” Hall said.
Using solar powered GPS units attached to individual condors, the research team will track each bird’s movements for the next year. The units record GPS location, altitude, flying speed and temperature every 15 minutes and transmit the data via existing cell phone networks to a remote server.
The amount of data generated by each unit is a four-fold to eight-fold increase from previous generation technology and will provide a much clearer picture of condor flight behavior.
“There are unique benefits to renewable energy, but there are ecological benefits in condors’ presence. We need to understand these birds better if we are going to have more wind energy and condors,” Hall said.
“I feel privileged to work with the folks that are keeping California condors from going extinct because these birds are truly awesome and an important component of a healthy ecosystem. It’s a common and ongoing challenge to mitigate the interests of humans and the survival of wildlife.”
For more information, contact Jonathan Hall at (304) 293-8559 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
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