A bald eagle

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Amid growing controversies over birds killed by turbines, a handful of big wind energy companies are teaming up with conservationists to pool data that could help address the problem.

The American Wind Wildlife Institute, a nonprofit partnership of 22 wind companies and nine green groups, has a new project that aims to round up, analyze, and eventually publish hitherto secret data on bird kills at wind power developments. Midwest Energy News reports:

“Our goal is not to identify problems to prosecute,” said Abby Arnold, AWWI’s executive director. “Our goal is to develop a really good analytic tool that experts — biologists, statisticians, ecologists — and the wind industry can use to understand what these impacts are, where they’re occurring, and how we can address them.” …

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Most wind developers are required to conduct wildlife impact studies before and after projects are built. The results are typically seen by local regulators but never broadly disseminated beyond that, in part because wind companies worry opponents will use the results in anti-wind campaigns.

After a successful pilot project, AWWI has started collecting post-construction wildlife impact studies from its members, which include some of the nation’s largest renewable developers. GE Energy, Horizon Wind, and Iberdrola Renewables are among the founding partners …

The American Wind Energy Association passed a resolution in support of the project two years ago, encouraging its members to participate. A big reason why wind companies may be embracing the project is that the data will be made anonymous before it’s shared with researchers or the public.

The project could help wind energy companies figure out where best to place their turbines, and which types of turbines they should use, to minimize impacts on birds and bats.

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The wind industry still doesn’t rank as a big bird killer:

[A] March 2013 study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin … said more than 573,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year. The American Wind Energy Association maintains that the actual number is less than 200,000 birds annually.

Either way, the numbers are small compared to other known causes of bird fatalities.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service [PDF], cars may kill 60 million birds or more each year. Building windows are to blame for more than 97 million bird deaths annually. Communication towers conservatively kill 4 to 5 million birds per year, and it could be ten times more. Power line fatalities could be “as high as 174 million deaths annually.” Pesticides poison at least 72 million birds annually, and up to two million are killed each year in oil and wastewater pits.

One study found domestic cats kill 39 million birds annually in Wisconsin alone, with the national total likely hundreds of millions per year.

Still, if the wind industry gets smarter about siting turbines, that can only be good for wildlife — and it should help the industry itself by quelling opposition from conservationists.