A GPS-Equipped Falcon Could Keep Birds From Flying Into Wind Turbines

Illustration for article titled A GPS-Equipped Falcon Could Keep Birds From Flying Into Wind Turbines

Birds have a bad habit of flying directly into big machines, like planes or wind turbines. This phenomenon, dubbed “birdstrike,” usually ends, well... badly for our feathered friends. But the key to saving these doomed birds could be another bird.


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has recruited a 15-year-old peregrine falcon named Houdini to fly near the Colorado Rockies while clutching a flash drive-sized GPS. Why?

Although his usual gig is halftime entertainment at Air Force football games, Houdini’s exploits for NREL could lead to serious advancements in radar technology—advancements could help researchers at the National Wind Technology Center keep better track of any wildlife flirting with death-by-wind turbine.


Avian scouts like Houdini could be more useful than drones to accomplish this goal, as a bird is the best thing we can use to predict other birds’ movement. (The drones don’t move about in the air the same way real birds do, which is why Houdini has the edge.)

NREL hopes to build a database with this flight pattern information that allows the folks at the wind plant to be alerted to nearby birds, and can stop the blades before the birds get too close.

The current alternative, which NREL says is mandated in many places? Plop somebody at the plant to be the 24/7 bird lookout.


[National Renewable Energy Laboratory]

Image: Getty


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How do you “cut power” to the windmill blades? The “power” is the wind. You could rotate the blades to minimize the airfoil properties or apply a braking system to slow them down but you can’t “cut the power”.

I bet that the “birdstrikes” problem is another issue that mother nature will fix herself in a few generations. Life is adaptable.

Birds that tend to have behaviors that keep them from dying in windmill blades will tend to have more children who can inherit that trait. Nature is more resilient than than most people think.