Reasons unknown why so many migratory birds are showing up dead at solar farms (solar #5)

Opening photo is of a feet-up bufflehead duck 25 miles from the nearest water.

Where was he? Between two rows of solar panels at the Genesis Solar farm in the California desert.

Condition? Decomposing. He is feet-up, as I said.

Cause of death? Unknown.  Your guess is as good as the reporter’s.

Chris Clarke reports in ReWire on 7-17-13:  Water Birds Turning Up Dead at Solar Projects in the Desert.

The reporter learned that between March ’13 and July ’13 at least 20 birds usually found around water were killed or injured at two specific solar farms, Desert Sunlight Solar Farm and Genesis Solar Energy Project. Compliance reports and personal communication with the reporter indicate half of the birds killed or injured at the two sites are water birds, according to the article.

A few of the dead birds mentioned in the article include:

  • brown pelican
  • great blue heron – 2 of them
  • black-crowned night heron
  • Yuma clapper rail – federally protected
  • Multiple grebe species
  • Multiple duck species (Hint: Migratory. Further hint: illegal to mess with them without a permit to mess with them.)

Not yet included in compliance reports as of the date of posting the article:

three juvenile brown pelicans …

a black-crowned night heron …

another brown pelican …

I enjoy watching the brown pelicans when my wife and I visit San Diego. Quite amazing birds. Lots of them in the bay near the ocean and on the seaward side of Point Loma.  I know enough that if I bother one of them, I’d be in big trouble. If you had a wish to kill off a bunch of ‘em, I guess you would have to build a solar farm.

Why are solar farms in the desert so hard on migratory waterfowl?

Nobody knows. I’m not being sarcastic – nobody knows.

Here’s the reporter’s guess:

But as ReWire mentioned in covering the Yuma clapper rail mortality on July 10, it seems very likely that reflections from solar facilities’ infrastructure, including photovoltaic panels and mirrors, may well be attracting birds in flight across the open desert, who mistake the broad reflective surfaces for water.

While flying over broad expanses of desert, the glare from solar panels may be interpreted by the birds as a rest area on the long flight north or south. The California desert is part of the Pacific Flyway, one of four major migratory paths in the US, according to the article.

The reporter continues his guesses that photovoltaic panels are more appealing to migrating waterfowl than the mirrors used in thermal solar farms. Here’s his comment:

It may be that photovoltaic arrays resemble lakes more closely than do mirrors, at least to the eyes of birds. Light reflecting off non-metallic surfaces tends to become polarized. Both water and the semiconducting surfaces of photovoltaic panels are non-metallic, which means the glare from one might well resemble the glare from the other if birds are sensitive to light polarization, which many are.

His guesses are as good as anyone else’s.  Apparently, guesses is all we have.

Other than lots of dead ducks, brown pelicans, herons, and other migratory birds.

One thought on “Reasons unknown why so many migratory birds are showing up dead at solar farms (solar #5)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *