Wind Power on the Horizon

“Monopole” wind turbines in the Netherlands’ Westermeerwind Wind Farm. Photo: Fokke Baarssen/Shutterstock


This article appears in the summer 2022 issue of The Urban Audubon.

By Suzanne Charlé

The past year has taught us the importance of alternate forms of energy. Recent United Nations reports (see stress how critical it is that we switch to sustainable energy sources to stem the climate crisis. And the recent Ukraine conflict has underscored the perils of depending on oil to fuel the world’s economies.

In the U.S., the Biden administration has put much of its focus on offshore wind energy. In the New York City area, 480,000 acres in the New York Bight (the roughly triangular area of ocean between Long Island and New Jersey) were auctioned in February to six companies for $437 billion—the largest offshore energy-lease sale ever.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity, with New York State setting incredible goals for renewable energy,” said Dr. Shilo Felton, National Audubon Society’s field manager for the Clean Energy Initiative. Slowing global warming, she says, is important to us—and to the birds: “According to the Audubon’s Climate Report, 389 bird species are likely to lose range or become extinct because of climate change.”

Recently auctioned wind power lease areas span a large portion of the New York Bight. Graphic courtesy of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Audubon, its affiliates, and other conservation organizations are working with government agencies and industry players to determine best practices for offshore wind projects—best practices that should be mandated at the federal level. “We can’t afford to have this stalled again,” Felton said. “We don’t know exactly how birds will respond to offshore turbines until they’re built, but we do have insights from Europe and also from U.S. land turbines.” A 2015 study estimated that in the U.S., 234,000 birds died from collisions with “monopole” wind turbines, pictured on page 3, the type in the proposed projects. (In comparison, the same study estimated that 599 million birds died in collisions with building windows.)

“The offshore wind industry is 20 years old in Europe,” noted Joel Merriman, director of American Bird Conservancy’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign. Efforts in the U.S. were set back when the Trump administration blocked the nation’s first offshore project. Now that new possibilities have opened up under President Biden, more risk assessment research is needed.

To minimize impacts on birds, Merriman says, “siting is everything. We need to know where the birds are and where they aren’t, and what displacement there is. We have to set the bar high now, with stringent standards based on good data, good science examining impacts.”

This research has to be done now. There are plans for thousands of offshore wind turbines in U.S. waters; only seven are yet in operation, none as large as those proposed for our area. Building and siting of turbines for the leases sold in the New York Bight will not occur for perhaps five years, Felton explained. We must take the opportunity now to understand and reduce the impacts of wind energy on wildlife.

In comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) last year, cosigned by NYC Audubon and other organizations, the National Audubon Society urged BOEM, the energy companies, and the states involved to fund detailed studies now, before construction starts, of the interactions of offshore wind and the natural ecosystem. New York and New Jersey are the first states to require energy companies to commit a portion of their proceeds to survey, monitor, and respond to impacts on wildlife. (New York’s latest solicitation for clean energy projects includes up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and requires developers to contribute at least $10,000 per megawatt for regional monitoring of fisheries and other wildlife.)

To carry out this monitoring both pre- and post-construction, Felton said, leases must include Motus towers (radiotelemetry receivers) that track bird movement. “We recommend that BOEM’s current avian survey guidelines for developers be updated to extend monitoring to 20 kilometers beyond lease footprints. European studies have shown that certain species can be displaced from habitats within 20 kilometers. Currently, most companies primarily survey area only within their lease footprint.”

The Roseate Tern is occasionally seen at New York City beaches. Listed as Endangered in New York State, this elegant species breeds at the eastern tip of Long Island and forages in the New York Bight. Photo: Ann Pacheco/Audubon Photography Awards
Bird species of particular concern are Piping Plovers, Red Knots, and Roseate Terns—all of which are federally threatened or endangered. Also to be studied are shorebirds that travel short distances, hopping from Long Island or southern Massachusetts to New Jersey and Maryland; marine birds with high collision and displacement vulnerability; nocturnal migrants; and other species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, like the Northern Gannet.

High-resolution surveys of the project areas will help us better understand potential impacts on nature and take actions to protect bird populations from displacement. In addition to placing turbines in low-impact areas for birds, measures that minimize bird deaths must be implemented on all turbines. Mitigation in the form of off-site conservation measures must also be required, to bolster affected bird populations. And existing laws that protect wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, must be strictly enforced.

To learn more from the National Audubon Society about birds and wind power, visit To read more about wind power leases in the New York Bight, visit