• Non-territorial GPS-tagged golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos at two Scottish wind farms: avoidance influenced by preferred habitat distribution, wind speed and blade motion status

      Fielding, Alan H; Anderson, David; Benn, Stuart; Dennis, Roy; Weston, Ewan; Whitfield, Philip; Natural Research Ltd; Forestry and Land Scotland; RSPB Scotland; Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation; University of Chester (Public Library of Science, 2021-08-05)
      Wind farms can have two broad potential adverse effects on birds via antagonistic processes: displacement from the vicinity of turbines (avoidance), or death through collision with rotating turbine blades. These effects may not be mutually exclusive. Using detailed data from 99 turbines at two wind farms in central Scotland and thousands of GPS-telemetry data from dispersing golden eagles, we tested three hypotheses. Before-and-after-operation analyses supported the hypothesis of avoidance: displacement was reduced at turbine locations in more preferred habitat and with more preferred habitat nearby. After-operation analyses (i.e. from the period when turbines were operational) showed that at higher wind speeds and in highly preferred habitat eagles were less wary of turbines with motionless blades: rejecting our second hypothesis. Our third hypothesis was supported, since at higher wind speeds eagles flew closer to operational turbines; especially – once more – turbines in more preferred habitat. After operation, eagles effectively abandoned inner turbine locations, and flight line records close to rotor blades were rare. While our study indicated that whole-wind farm functional habitat loss through avoidance was the substantial adverse impact, we make recommendations on future wind farm design to minimise collision risk further. These largely entail developers avoiding outer turbine locations which are in and surrounded by swathes of preferred habitat. Our study illustrates the insights which detailed case studies of large raptors at wind farms can bring and emphasises that the balance between avoidance and collision can have several influences.