Researchers Reveal Hot Spots for Eagles and Turbines

The first large-scale study on golden eagle nesting sites and wind energy development in Wyoming has revealed potential areas for wind-power sites that avoid the eagles’ nesting sweet spots.

Researchers Brad Fedy, an ecology professor at the University of Waterloo, and Jason Tack, a PhD student at Colorado State University and lead author of the study developed habitat selection models of nesting sites for the birds across the state. Then, they compared the nesting models with areas for wind potential, noting sites of potential conflict and benefits.

“In some areas, wind turbines and golden eagles don’t get along very well,” said Fedy, who is also a member of The Wildlife Society. “Adult survival is the key life stage for golden eagles. Adults being killed can have impacts on the population.”

As part of their research published in PLOS ONE, Tack first collected a large amount of nest location data from agencies in Wyoming. After collecting about 11,000 records of golden eagle nests, Tack narrowed down the number of nest sites to study to 1,000. Then, the researchers recorded if there was high wind potential or low wind potential at these sites. The best potential spots for wind-power sites were the areas with high wind potential and low threat to nesting eagles.

Currently, wind farms employ people to watch for golden eagles and then if they find one, the turbines are shut down. This means spending more money on people and energy, which can be avoided by using wind-sites with lower probability of harming eagles, Fedy said.

“We hope this gets used in Wyoming for proactive help in informing decisions,” Fedy said. “We don’t think this is the be-all and end-all, but we do think this is the best tool out there to help guide siting. Everyone should benefit.”

Models such as this one have been applied in other situations and are helpful in guiding choosing spots for energy development and avoiding priority habitat, according to Fedy, who recently published a paper in the Wildlife Monographs about avoiding priority habitat for sage grouse.

Fedy hopes the research, which covers almost the whole state, can help influence decisions on energy sources at a state level.

“The beauty is everyone loves golden eagles,” Fedy said. “Everyone can benefit from this sort of approach. We are providing the best available science we can to help make informed decisions.”

Header Image: A golden eagle soars over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. In a recently published study, researchers found hot spots for wind energy development with the least impact on golden eagles.

Image Credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS