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Prairie Chickens & Wind Farms

May 27, 2015

Researchers look into whether the sounds produced by wind farms disturb some imperiled birds.



Greg Kramos USFWS Mountain-Prairie Greater Prairie Chickens

Male Greater Prairie Chickens during the breeding season. (Greg Kramos/USFWS Mountain/flickr/Creative Commons License BY 2.0)

Bird calls and wind farms. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[sound of wind turbine]

In places with strong, sustained winds, like the Nebraska prairie, the business of wind power is booming. But that’s not the only thing booming there.

[greater prairie chicken boom vocalization]

That’s the so-called “booming call” of the greater prairie chicken. Audible a mile or more away, the call helps the colorful males attract mates. Auditory neurobiologist Edward Walsh of the Boys Town National Research Hospital is studying whether the sound of wind farms might disturb the threatened birds. He’s already determined that they can hear the low sounds of the turbines.

EDWARD WALSH (Boys Town National Research Hospital):

And now the big next question, of course, is the harder one, which is to determine whether their vocal characteristics are modified as a response to noise produced in the facility.


And ultimately to see if that affects the birds’ mating success. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.