Great Lakes Area Research
Making Wind Power Wildlife Friendly
The fundamental goal of this project is identification of areas along Great Lakes shorelines that are ecologically important for populations of migratory birds and bats. These are areas where wind energy development should be avoided.
The shorelines, islands, and offshore areas of the Great Lakes provide excellent wind resources. However, they are also important for many bird and bat species, particularly during migration.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting research to provide wind project developers, regulators, and others better information regarding:
The knowledge gained will also be used to protect areas important to migrating birds from other habitat impacts and will help identify key areas throughout the Great Lakes that are critical to the many birds and bats that migrate across and around the Great Lakes.
Finally, data obtained from the studies will identify areas where additional analysis is necessary to ensure that wind power is developed in a manner that is protective of bats and migratory birds.
The initial focus has been on the landward shoreline areas where we are seeing the greatest pressure for wind development. We started a secondary effort on some of the Great Lakes islands where wind development is beginning.
Four complementary methods are being used to determine migration corridors for birds and bats along the landward shoreline areas: avian radar systems, acoustic/ultrasonic monitors, visual observations, and digitization of historical bird observations.
Avian Radar Systems
Avian radar systems were purchased and have operated during spring and fall migration of 2011; spring migration of 2012; and are now being operated during the fall 2012 migration. The radar software is designed to identify birds and bats as targets and provide data on their approximate size, flight direction, altitude, time observed, and location relative to the ground. Data analysis is ongoing.
While avian radar can provide excellent quantitative data on migrating bird and bat and is especially valuable for nocturnal migrants, it is limited in its ability to identify the targets as birds or bats and to classify them further into family or genus. We are conducting visual observations in conjunction with the radar operations to help determine what birds were found in the area as the radar data was collected.
Additionally, the Service has partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Minnesota to conduct acoustic monitoring. Two acoustic/ultrasonic monitors were operated with each radar unit for both spring and fall seasons of 2011. These units are designed to pick up calls of bats (ultrasonic) and nocturnal birds (acoustic) as they pass through the area and can again be used to correlate radar data with groups of bird and bat calls detected at the same time. This fall, along with the four acoustic/ultrasonic monitors associated with the radar units, approximately 22 additional monitors have been deployed along the shorelines of Lakes Michigan, Erie, and Ontario.
Digitization of Historical Bird Observations
In addition to the work being conducted by the Service, five grants have been competitively awarded to conduct additional work:
Three of the digitization projects will result in a thorough database of historic and current use of the western Lake Michigan shoreline by migratory birds in spring and fall. Twenty years of data for western Lake Erie will be digitized as well. New data on bird and bat migration patterns will be obtained from migration surveys on the eastern Lake Ontario islands in New York. All historic and current bird data will be entered into the Midwest Avian Data Center’s database, which is a new node of the Avian Knowledge Network. This will ensure the data will be publicly accessible and will enable the use of geospatial tools to undertake various analyses.
The radar and acoustic/ultrasonic data will be coupled with the digitized bird survey data to obtain species-specific information for specific sites. By combining these datasets the Service will have a robust data set describing how birds use the Great Lake shorelines during migration, which will be an invaluable tool to understand the potential interaction between migrating birds and wind power projects. The immediate goal of gathering this information is to be able to identify bird and bat migration and concentration areas with the hope of guiding wind development away from such areas. But the value of the information extends far beyond just this utility. Migratory bird data can be used to evaluate and prioritize land for conservation or restoration, inform habitat management, and aid in understanding species distribution and behavior. By making both current data and historic datasets publicly accessible, this valuable information can be widely used for conservation planning purposes.